It’s almost as if the offense Shurmur designed that year was a slightly earlier version of what he’s running now with the New York Giants.
That Vikings offense, with Case Keenum at quarterback, is what helped Shurmur land the job with the Giants. There are clearly some similarities.
“I can see that,” said Giants offensive lineman Mike Remmers, who was on that Vikings team in ’17 that came within a game of the Super Bowl. “Case definitely uses his feet. Daniel uses his feet.”
It begins there, even though Keenum is long gone (now with the Redskins) and Kirk Cousins will start for the Vikings on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox) against the Giants. Jones’ mobility allows Shurmur’s current unit to operate in ways they couldn’t under Eli Manning. The zone-reads add a new element with Jones’ ability to keep the football and run. That led directly to a touchdown run in his first career start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The designed quarterback rollouts and bootlegs also have new meaning. They’re no longer simply a tactic to buy Manning time. Jones can threaten the edge and force defenders into difficult decisions about whether to pay him attention or remain in coverage.
Jones already has 66 yards rushing. Manning’s career high is 80 yards rushing in his first season as a starter.
Keenum rushed for 160 yards during that career year in Minnesota, but maybe more importantly, he was extremely productive outside the pocket. He was third in the NFL with 529 yards passing outside the pocket and second with 29 passing first downs.
Jones is 7-of-10 passing for 89 yards with four passing first downs outside the pocket in his two games as the starter. The plays he’s running and the scheme he’s doing it within might resemble what Vikings coach Mike Zimmer saw when Shurmur was his offensive coordinator in Minnesota.
“There’s some similarities, yeah,” Zimmer said. “[Keenum and Jones are] two different style quarterbacks, but there are some similarities in some of the plays, with some of the things he ran when he was here.
“But honestly, they’re two different quarterbacks for the most part. Daniel, I think the guy is going to be really, really good, honestly. I think he’s good now, but I think he’s going to be really, really good. He looks like a big-time NFL quarterback that can move in the pocket, can make all the throws, looks like he makes quick decisions, moves under duress, so I think there’s a lot of good things that are going on with him.”
There is no doubt Shurmur prefers a quarterback with mobility, beyond just the ability to run. He’s been dropping hints on this ever since he was hired as the Giants head coach. He finally seemed to get his way a couple weeks back.
“I really value a guy that can move around. It doesn’t mean he’s a runner. It just means he has a way to clean his feet in the pocket or scramble when necessary,” Shurmur said back in February. “Typically, if you are going to have long drives and do it on a consistent basis, somewhere in that drive the quarterback has to do something with his feet to keep a drive alive or get a first down. Even guys that are not considered mobile, it might be subtle movement in the pocket. That mobility is very important. I think it is essential, really, for a quarterback to have great success.”
There is little doubt this played into the early switch from Manning to Jones. The Giants’ drives were dying on third downs — they were 5-of-24 in the first two games. They are 14-of-26 since.
The Vikings were third in the NFL converting 43.5 percent of their third downs during the 2017 season, Shurmur’s last in Minnesota. He took over as offensive coordinator for Norv Turner midway through the previous season.
It’s difficult to classify that offense or its current version with the Giants. Shurmur mixes West Coast roots developed under Andy Reid, spread concepts from Chip Kelly and vertical aspects from Turner into one playbook. He’s big on crossing routes, the mesh concept (receivers crossing paths in the middle of the field) and power runs.
Combined, it’s the Shurmur scheme, and he doesn’t like to compare its current version to any previous iterations.
“I don’t know. I think we’re learning. We try to attack the coverages that we see,” Shurmur said this week. “I think we’ve developed more things that we can do than when I was there. We just have to make sure we get the plays called at the right time.
“I don’t know how different offenses are. Everybody’s got curl flat, and four verticals, lock them up, take shots. Everybody runs the ball to the right, to the left, inside, outside, everybody tosses the ball. I don’t know, I guess I don’t think too much about that.”
What he has to be able to recognize now is that his offense is now running efficiently, much like during that final year in Minnesota.