Indulge me here for a moment. . .we're going the long way around on this one, but we are going somewhere.
In the 1998 movie Rounders, Mike McDermott (played by Matt Damon) loses $30,000 playing poker against a Russian man known as Teddy KGB (played by John Malkovich). After a whole lot of drama, McDermott gets an opportunity to redeem himself against Teddy KGB, and he discovers that the Russian has what's known in the poker world as a "tell," or something that tips other players off as to how good a hand he has.
See, Teddy KGB liked to eat Oreo cookies at the poker table. When he had an inferior hand and was attempting to bluff his way to a victory, he would break his cookies in half, but not eat them. When he had a pretty strong hand, he would eat the cookies after breaking them open. Using that tell to his advantage, McDermott eventually takes down Teddy KGB and everyone lives happily ever after.
In a trend that has developed over the course of this season, the Minnesota Vikings appear to be in the process of creating their own Teddy KGB. In this case, we're talking about quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has gone from a player that looked like he was developing nicely at the end of his rookie season in 2014 to a player that's indecisive and not trusting his instincts. Some of this has to do with the return of running back Adrian Peterson, who missed nearly the entire 2014 season after the fiasco involving him disciplining his child.
Going into this season, the logic was that Peterson's return was going to make things significantly easier for Bridgewater, as defenses were going to have to focus their attention on Peterson. So far, especially when compared to the finishing stretch of last season, that really has not been the case. . .and it appears that some of that might have to do with Norv Turner's offense developing a pretty significant "tell" of its own.
Over at Pro Football Reference, they have splits of how players perform in various situations, including by the various formations that offenses line up in. Looking at the 2015 split page for Adrian Peterson, here's how his carries this season have broken down based on the Vikings' offensive formation.
|QB Under Center||206||1,111||5.4||8||55|
We've heard on numerous occasions that Peterson doesn't like running out of the shotgun and how he'd rather be lined up seven yards back, allowing him to get a head of steam before reaching the line of scrimmage. The numbers bear that out, as he's been pretty awful running out of the shotgun so far this season.
The problem with that, at least as it pertains to Bridgewater, is that it runs exactly counter to what he does best. Here are the 2015 split numbers for Bridgewater so far this season.
|QB Under Center||50||84||59.5||659||2||2|
As you can see from the numbers, Bridgewater is a significantly better passer out of the shotgun formation, as it allows him the opportunity to scan the field.
This is not just a trend from this season. Take a look at the numbers from Bridgewater's rookie season.
|QB Under Center||48||100||48||482||3||8|
Seriously, look at that, would you? The discrepancy is incredible, particularly the completion percentage and the TD/Interception ratio. Teddy Bridgewater is most effective when he's allowed to line up in the shotgun, spread out opposing defenses, and use his considerable intelligence to make his reads and find the open man.
But opposing defenses know that Adrian Peterson doesn't like to run out of the shotgun. So, it stands to reason that they know if the Vikings are lined up with Bridgewater under center and Peterson in the backfield, they're going to be running the football. If they're lined up in the shotgun and Peterson stays on the field. . .a fairly rare occurrence. . .they're probably going to throw the football.
In the poker world, you can get away with a tell like Teddy KGB's Oreos if you're playing against the guys from your neighborhood in your local home game where people really aren't paying attention. Show up at the World Series of Poker doing something like that, and you'll bust out before the end of Day 1. Conversely, with the Vikings' offense, you can get away with something like this when you're playing teams that aren't very good. Good teams with good defenses and good coaching, on the other hand, will destroy that.
Almost every NFL team runs their offense through their quarterback and gives their quarterback an opportunity to play to their strengths. In 2014, the Minnesota Vikings ran their offense through their young quarterback, and their young quarterback looked like a player that could lead this team into the future for the long term. The 2015 Minnesota Vikings, on the other hand, are definitely not running their offense through their young quarterback, and their young quarterback looks like a hot mess.
In 2014, Teddy Bridgewater looked sharp. He looked decisive. He was getting rid of the ball and making plays to his wide receivers. . .and he was doing it with Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon next to him in the backfield. McKinnon doesn't have any issue running out of the shotgun (4.3 yards/carry for his career). Neither does Asiata (4.1 yards/carry), despite his reputation for being a bruiser. Now, 4 yards/carry doesn't look spectacular or anything. . .unless you put it next to 1.7, in which case it looks amazing.
From what I've seen on social media and other sources, fans of the Minnesota Vikings appear to be growing increasingly impatient with Teddy Bridgewater and his lack of development from his rookie year. But Bridgewater isn't going to develop the way that the fans want him to as long as he's playing to someone else's strengths rather than his own. If Bridgewater is going to be the sort of franchise quarterback that Vikings' fans have wanted since Daunte Culpepper was a youngster, one of two things are going to have to happen. Either
1) Adrian Peterson is going to have to figure out how to become a more complete running back, including how to run out of the shotgun and how to pass protect (where he's still a gigantic liability) so that this offense can have some actual variety, or
2) This team is going to have to move on from Adrian Peterson and start playing with running backs that are versatile enough and/or willing enough to do what needs to be done in this offense, allowing Bridgewater to play to his strengths rather than Peterson's.
Yes, I can already see the torches and pitchforks coming out for suggesting that the Vikings move on without Adrian Peterson. That's fine. I understand that Peterson has been one of the NFL's all-time great running backs in terms of on-field production and that it would kill a lot of folks to see him in another uniform. But what other offense in today's NFL is going to tailor itself to Peterson's strengths? According to Football Outsiders, no team had used the shotgun formation on over half of their offensive plays before 2007, when Peterson entered the league. Now, the NFL has reached the point where 60% of offensive snaps are taken in the shotgun formation, with some teams even topping out at 85%. Is a team going to scrap their entire playbook/offensive philosophy to accommodate him? I sort of have my doubts.
The Minnesota Vikings have a decision to make. They can either have Adrian Peterson lined up in the backfield, or they can attempt to give Teddy Bridgewater the opportunity to be the franchise quarterback that he's shown the ability to be. In their current configuration, it doesn't appear as though they can have both.