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Vikings Snap Counts vs. Patriots: Duke Shelley Starts, Should Jalen Reagor See More Reps?

K.J. Osborn has had a rough third season. Should that open the door for more Reagor?
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The Vikings picked up a much-needed bounce back victory over the Patriots on Thanksgiving night, reminding the country that they're a dangerous 9-2 team. 

Kirk Cousins received good protection from his offensive line and put together one of his best games of the season, distributing the ball to each of his top three targets effectively. He needed to do so, because the Vikings didn't get much going at all in the running game.

Defensively, the Vikings mostly struggled, allowing Mac Jones to throw for over 380 yards. But as usual, they stepped up and made some plays when it was needed, including a couple late sacks, good third down defense, and a savvy play by Patrick Peterson to keep Kendrick Bourne inbounds in the final minute as the clock ticked down.

Let's take our weekly look at the snap counts to see what we can learn.

Vikings offensive snap counts vs. New England (out of 68)

  • RT Brian O'Neill: 68
  • RG Ed Ingram: 68
  • C Garrett Bradbury: 68
  • LG Ezra Cleveland: 68
  • LT Blake Brandel: 68
  • QB Kirk Cousins: 68
  • WR Justin Jefferson: 66
  • WR Adam Thielen: 63
  • RB Dalvin Cook: 58
  • TE T.J. Hockenson: 54
  • WR K.J. Osborn: 38
  • TE Johnny Mundt: 37
  • RB Alexander Mattison: 10
  • FB C.J. Ham: 10
  • WR Jalen Reagor: 2
  • OT Oli Udoh: 2

Let's talk about K.J. Osborn. He made a huge second-year leap last season, going from not seeing the field as a rookie to posting a 50-655-7 line in 2021. He had some big moments, including a walk-off touchdown against the Panthers. However, his catch rate (receptions divided by targets), PFF receiving grade, and yards per route run were all fairly mediocre.

Osborn has regressed this season. He has just a 28-245-2 line through 11 games and the other metrics have gotten even worse. Out of 67 receivers with at least 40 targets, he ranks dead last in yards per route run (0.66), 66th in receiving grade (57.5), and 62nd in passer rating when targeted (73.0). Over the last five games, Osborn has nine catches for 68 yards on 23 targets. That's a 39 percent catch rate. Two of Cousins' four interceptions over that period have come while targeting Osborn, including the one pick he threw on Thursday. 

I don't think the Vikings are suddenly going to bench Osborn. He's a good run blocker, he works hard, and he's serviceable as the No. 4 or 5 option in the passing game. But it is interesting that the 38 snaps he played on Thursday were his second-fewest all season, while Mundt had a much bigger role than usual. Will the Vikings move away slightly from their heavy reliance on 11 personnel?

Another option would be to give Jalen Reagor some of Osborn's snaps. Reagor is a twitchier athlete who was selected four rounds before Osborn in the 2020 draft. He caught a 25-yard pass in one of his two snaps against New England, although he did happen to be wide open. Because of the run blocking element, I don't think it'll happen. Osborn is still valuable there. But it's been a rough third season for the former fifth-rounder out of Miami.

Cook dominated running back snaps in this game and has 26 touches, but he could only turn them into 56 yards. In addition to Mundt, Ham was a little more active than usual with ten snaps. Brandel filled in for Christian Darrisaw at left tackle once again and was fine. His Griddy needs work, though.

Vikings defensive snap counts vs. New England (out of 55)

  • S Camryn Bynum: 55
  • LB Eric Kendricks: 55
  • CB Patrick Peterson: 55
  • CB Duke Shelley: 55
  • SCB Chandon Sullivan: 55
  • S Harrison Smith: 54
  • LB Jordan Hicks: 53
  • OLB Danielle Hunter: 50
  • OLB Za'Darius Smith: 47
  • DT Jonathan Bullard: 31
  • DT Harrison Phillips: 31
  • OLB D.J. Wonnum: 25
  • DT Ross Blacklock: 17
  • DT James Lynch: 9
  • DT Khyiris Tonga: 7
  • OLB Patrick Jones II: 5
  • S Josh Metellus: 1

With no Cameron Dantzler, Akayleb Evans, or Andrew Booth Jr., Shelley made his first start as a Viking and had an up-and-down day. He had another pass breakup in the end zone, but he was probably fortunate no flag was thrown on the play. He tackled well, but gave up six catches on seven targets, including a 40-yard bomb to DeVante Parker. Booth is hurt and Dantzler is on IR for at least one more game, but the Vikings will hope to get Evans back this week.

"He’s a dog," Bynum said about Shelley. "That’s really it. Practices hard, plays hard. He has a mindset of ‘Whenever I’m in, he’s going to make a play.’ You saw that in the Buffalo game, you saw that today. Made plays. He’s a really good player. That’s exactly what we expect out of him."

Za'Darius Smith was back to a nearly full-time role after playing just 25 snaps against the Cowboys while dealing with a knee issue. He was back to his productive ways, recording five pressures to add to his NFL lead in that department.

The defensive tackle rotation was interesting in this game. Phillips and Bullard played the same number of snaps, while Blacklock surged ahead of Lynch and Tonga in the backup rotation. Blacklock picked up his first sack as a Viking in the final minute of the game. Dalvin Tomlinson could return from his calf injury this week after missing four games, which would be huge for this defense.

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