Vikings-Eagles: Shurmur’s Return is a Concern
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Things have been going pretty well for Pat Shurmur.
Back on Sunday, his play call of "Buffalo right, seven heaven" resulted in the "Minnesota Miracle," a 61-yard walk-off touchdown pass from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs that lifted the Minnesota Vikings into the NFC Championship Game against the Eagles on Sunday.
By Thursday Mike Zimmer's offensive coordinator has been tabbed as the Assistant Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America and oh yeah, whenever the Vikings' run does end Shurmur is going to be named the next head coach of the New York Giants.
Shurmur, of course, is well known to Eagles fans, first as a long-time assistant under Andy Reid, a stint that ultimately rewarded Shurmur with his first opportunity at the big chair in Cleveland, and then returning as the offensive coordinator under Chip Kelly, even finishing the Kelly era with a win as the team's interim coach.
Philadelphia interviewed Shurmur for the head-coaching job before being snubbed by Adam Gase and Ben McAdoo and ultimately "settling" for Doug Pederson before the 2016 season.
In Minnesota, Zimmer brought Shurmur in as his tight ends coach, seemingly a step down for a long-time coordinator but an NFL source told 973espn.com at the time that he was the heir apparent to Norv Turner, whose dated views of offense and inability to shift gears based on personnel started to wear on the Vikings head coach.
And sure enough Turner walked away in-season in 2016 and Shurmur was elevated, quickly revamping an offense that was forced to go through five left tackles due to injury. Instead of Turner's early-1990s Dallas offense, Shurmur morphed Minnesota into a quick-throwing team enabling Sam Bradford to stay upright and set the NFL completion-percentage record [since broken by Drew Brees].
It wasn't the optimal way Shurmur wanted to run things but it was necessary and spoke to his strength as a coach, surveying what he has on hand and using it in the best way possible.
That exploded in 2017 when Shurmur somehow turned what was perceived to be a journeyman QB into an MVP candidate.
"We’re educators," Shurmur explained earlier this week when discussing Keenum and the success Minnesota has had. "I think that [the players] don’t work for us; we work together, so we start by talking. We start by talking about our background, we talk about the things that we’ve done in the past, we talk about the things that we like, and what you try to do is build a system around the things that the quarterback can do. We all have plays. We all run curl, flat, and verticals, we just have to find the things that the player can do well. It really comes down to a lot of communicating, like all of us would do as educators."
Looking forward to the NFC Championship Game Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, Shurmur also offers the Vikings some advantages the average visitor isn't going to have.
"I was there 13 years, I’m pretty familiar with their operation," Shurmur admitted.
Part of that is knowledge of the logistics like the field surface at the Linc, which was recently resodded, and an intimate knowledge of what the fans bring to the environment.
Some of those fans hanging on to Jim Schwartz's dominance over Minnesota last season as some sort of security blanket for Sunday should understand that was against the antiquated Turner and the immobile Bradford, a performance which actually confirmed Zimmer's concerns about the veteran coach.
This time around Schwartz has to square off with someone worthy of sitting at the chess board with him and the Eagles' defensive coordinator seems to understand that and is even on edge a little bit.
Schwartz shut down photography of the front seven's work during the open portion of practice on Thursday, this despite the fact the media can only watch the first 15 minutes-or-so of the session which amounts to nothing more than stretching and individual work.
Anxiety isn't a guarantee of failure by any means but it is an acknowledgment that the task at hand is going to be difficult.
"Our focus right now is to put together a really good plan, get on a plane, go to Philadelphia, and get it on," Shurmur said.
973espn.com Prediction: Vikings 20, Eagles 13
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen