In the wake of the Minnesota Vikings’ 16-13 loss to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, it appears that the focus of much of the ire is on quarterback Sam Bradford. While there are definitely reasons to think that Bradford could have done some things better, my personal opinion is that he’s not anywhere close to being this team’s biggest problem.
I understand that people are angry that the Vikings gave up a first-round pick for Bradford’s services and that the deal now appears to be a gigantic flop. I’m just not entirely sure what else people expect from the man, given the circumstances he’s dealing with.
What do I mean? Let me explain.
Have you seen the offensive line?
This off-season, the talk was about how the Vikings were bringing in a big group of offensive linemen and how this was going to build competition and greater depth along the line and how things were going to be an improvement over what we saw from the offensive line in 2015.
But, even in the National Football League, depth only goes so far.
The Vikings had their starting left tackle, Matt Kalil, for all of two games. They had their starting right tackle, Andre Smith, for about two and a half games. They signed Jake Long to man the left tackle spot. He got through four whole games (two as a starter) before he got hurt. Jeremiah Sirles, who became the starter at right tackle after T.J. Clemmings had to move back to left tackle following Long’s injury, left yesterday’s game with what appeared to be some sort of a leg injury. To top it all off, Joe Berger. . .this team’s only consistent offensive lineman over the past couple of years. . .left in the second quarter on Thursday with a concussion.
When the Vikings got the ball back for their final drive, they were playing (essentially) their #3 left tackle, their #2 center, and their #3 right tackle. Add in a couple of guards that can charitably be described as “underachieving,” and yeah. . .not ideal.
NFL teams can generally get by playing backups. When you get to the point where you’re playing the backups to the backups, things are going to get a little hairy. And on Thursday, for the Vikings’ most important drive of the season to date, they had Willie Beavers. . .a guy that they cut during the preseason. . .manning the right tackle spot.
Willie. . .Beavers.
Even if all the Vikings’ starters on the offensive line were healthy, they’d have issues at that spot. With the rash of injuries they’ve suffered there so far this season, they’re going to be awful, and that’s precisely what they are. Which leads to the next point.
(Well, most of this is going to stem from the offensive line thing, but anyway. . .)
I understand that watching Sam Bradford throw the ball five yards short of the sticks on 3rd-and-8 is an exercise in frustration. Believe me, I’m frustrated by it, too. It’s rough to see a quarterback complete 31-of-37 passes for only 224 yards and eight passing first downs.
However, there’s honestly no time for anything else.
This is the quality of OL the Vikings are relying on right now pic.twitter.com/v3Z4DwZg2d— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) November 24, 2016
There’s a reason that this offense doesn’t attempt anything further than a three-step drop anymore, and that’s because the offensive line isn’t capable of blocking for anything more than that. Most of the time, they’re not capable of blocking for a three-step drop, either, but you really can’t do anything less than that. When you have to get the ball out of your hand almost as soon as you receive the snap, 5-yard routes are going to rule the day, and that’s what we’ve seen with this offense in recent weeks. Not having Stefon Diggs hurt, too, but Adam Thielen and Cordarrelle Patterson have shown themselves as being capable targets, so that aspect doesn’t worry me nearly as much.
This Run Game Is Historically Awful
As it stands right now, the Vikings’ offense is putting together one of the worst rushing seasons in NFL history. We’ve already established that the offensive line can’t pass block, but it doesn’t appear as though they can run block, either.
Through the first 11 games of the season, the Vikings as a team. . .as a team. . .have rushed for 782 yards. That’s an average of 71.1 yards/game. The low water mark for team rushing yards in a 16-game season belongs to the 2000 San Diego Chargers, who rushed for a collective 1,002 yards. That team a) went 1-15 that season, and b) even they managed a better yards/carry figure than this Vikings team. That Chargers squad managed to reach the mythical 3 yards/carry plateau. . .the Vikings are currently at 2.8 yards/carry.
If the Vikings maintain their current rushing average, they’ll finish the season with 1,137 collective rushing yards. Last season, Adrian Peterson ran for 1,485 yards by himself, and the team collectively rushed for 2,211 while averaging nearly two full yards/carry more than this year’s team. To say that there’s no threat of a run game is an understatement, to say the least.
Those three things lead to Bradford believing that he absolutely has to be perfect in order for this team to win, in my opinion. . .and, quite frankly, he’s right. The general pattern for this season has been that if this team gets down by two scores, they’re cooked. Yes, they had the brief comeback at Washington, but then got shut down in the second half, and when the time came for something other than a three-step drop and a quick pass, we all saw what happened.
Bradford, through a combination of not having enough time to do anything else and knowing that he can’t risk turning the ball over, has pretty much stopped taking the chances that he was taking during Minnesota’s early-season win streak. That having been said. . .
Given The Circumstances, Bradford Is Doing His Job
I want to do a quick quarterback comparison here to illustrate my point.
Quarterback A - 71.3% completion rate, 2,415 passing yards, 6.9 yards/attempt, 12 TD, 3 INT
Quarterback B - 65.3% completion rate, 3,231 passing yards, 7.2 yards/attempt, 14 TD, 9 INT
Most of you have probably already figured out who these quarterbacks are, but here’s the answer.
Quarterback A is Bradford and what he’s done through his ten starts with the Vikings despite all of the issues that have been outlined above.
Quarterback B is Teddy Bridgewater and what he did in 16 games with the Vikings last year. . .with the same offensive line in front of him for 16 games and the threat of an actual run game behind him.
Now, anybody that’s read this site for any length of time knows that I do, in fact, love me some Teddy Bridgewater. Looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooove Teddy Bridgewater. Full-on man crush, almost. I would love nothing more than to see him lead the Vikings onto the field for the 2017 season opener. I know we all thought that he was poised for a breakout season in 2016 before the injury happened and everything else.
But the supposition of Bridgewater having a breakout season was predicated on a lot of the same things, primarily that the offensive line was going to be better in 2016 than it was in 2015 (remember when we thought it couldn’t possibly get worse?), and that while the offense would transition to more of a Bridgewater-centric operation, the threat of running the football would still be there.
I don’t know if Bridgewater’s presence would have done anything to stem the tide of offensive line injuries or anything like that. . .I’m guessing it probably wouldn’t have. But with all of the circumstances being equal, I don’t think anybody can definitively declare that the Vikings would be in a different situation with Teddy at quarterback than they are with Sam Bradford.
This is one of the worst Vikings’ offenses in recent memory, I’ll grant everyone that. However, I don’t think that Sam Bradford is the issue. Pretty much all of the issues with this offense begin and end with the offensive line, and they’re a pretty sizeable portion of the parts in between, too. It’s far too late to do anything about it this season, but hopefully the front office knows that this should be the focus going forward so that whoever quarterbacks this team in 2017 doesn’t have to deal with this sort of mess again.