Prepare your shocked faces, ladies and gentlemen!
Someone sat down and figured out which teams in the NFL called running plays the most frequently on first down. Not surprisingly, the Minnesota Vikings found their way to the top of the list by a convincing margin.
Highest percentage of runs plays on first down in 2015 (excluding kneels) #Vikings: 67.6 #Rams: 62.5 #Bills: 61.2 #Bucs: 57.1 #Bears: 57.1— Thomas Bassinger (@tometrics) January 26, 2016
Not surprisingly, four of those teams were in the top seven in the NFL in rushing yardage. . .the Vikings were fourth, the Rams were seventh, the Bills were first, and the Buccaneers were fifth. The Bears found themselves in eleventh in the NFL in rushing yardage. In a bit of a surprise, the Vikings are nearly as far ahead of the second-place Rams, percentage-wise, than the Rams are ahead of the Bears and Buccaneers.
In a stat that I'm sure is almost completely unrelated, all of these teams were also in the bottom half of the league in passing offense, with three of them finishing in the bottom five. Tampa Bay was the highest of the group, ranking 17th in the NFL in passing, while Chicago was 23rd in the NFL. The Bills wound up in the 28th spot, with the Vikings and Rams bringing up the rear at 31st and 32nd in the NFL in passing, respectively.
If you're scoring at home, the Vikings were also the only one of those five teams to make the playoffs.
So, how did calling the most first-down running plays in the NFL fare for the Vikings' offense? Not terribly well, according to the same source.
#Vikings gained 5.39 yards per play on first down in 2015, sixth-fewest in the NFL. #Bucs gained 6.54, most. https://t.co/LxLaL3fwhg— Thomas Bassinger (@tometrics) January 27, 2016
The high percentage of first down runs called by Norv Turner and company coupled with the low yardage on first down plays draws a conclusion that we all saw during Vikings' games this year. . .the Vikings spent a lot of time "behind schedule" on second and third downs because nearly 70% of the first down plays were a call that pretty much everyone in the stadium knew was coming.
Yes, we know how great a running back Adrian Peterson is and that he led the NFL in rushing and all that. But for this offense to take the next step, someone. . .whether it's Norv Turner or Pat Shurmur or even Mike Zimmer. . .needs to come to the realization that the Vikings' offense must work towards becoming less Peterson-centric and start opening things up more on early downs.
While Shurmur has the title of tight ends coach, Zimmer has said that he's going to have some input into the offense as well.
"He's been with a lot of different offenses, been a head coach, been an offensive coordinator. He's coached the tight ends before," Zimmer said. "He's had some experience with the Philadelphia offense, the West Coast offense. I think it's just good to get more guys in that have input."
That last part is intriguing, I think. From what we've seen from Teddy Bridgewater in his first two NFL seasons, it would appear that he'd be a much better fit in a West Coast-style of offense than the "Air Coryell" type of scheme that Norv Turner prefers. The West Coast offense tends to rely more on short passes and accuracy rather than having a big arm, and while I don't think Bridgewater has the sort of "noodle arm" that many of his detractors try to say he has, there's no question that his accuracy is his biggest asset at this point of his career. The Vikings moving to that sort of offense would probably not be the worst thing they could do in order to transition to the post-Peterson era. . .which, whether folks want to admit it or not, is likely coming sooner rather than later.
Hopefully whatever input Shurmur has into the offense will involve telling NORV~! that it's okay to throw the ball on first down more than 30% of the time. It would probably be beneficial to everyone involved with the Vikings if it did.