Among the many signs that football is finally upon us again is the release of the Football Outsiders Almanac. Their 2016 version has been released and is available for purchase at the Football Outsiders Store for the very reasonable price of $15.00. It comes in the form of a PDF, so when you order it you can have it in your hot little hands within minutes. If you like football. . .and if you’re reading this, the odds are reasonably high that you like football. . .it’s a worthwhile purchase.
In conjunction with the release of the FOA, we had an opportunity to sit down and talk about the Vikings with Vincent Verhei, who handled the Vikings’ section of this year’s Almanac. We had the opportunity to ask him five questions. Three of them wound up being about the offense and the other two were centered on the defense. We’ll look at the offensive side here, with the defensive side coming in another post. My question to Vincent will be in bold, his response will be in block-quoted form, and I will have a bit more commentary on it after that.
Here we go!
We know how good Adrian Peterson is at running the football. However, given the predictability of the Vikings’ offense and Peterson’s limitations, do you think the Vikings would be wise to start emphasizing him less?
Yes they should, for a number of reasons. Peterson is 31, and not even the best running backs of all time (and Peterson certainly is one) last forever. And as great as Peterson is, there are limitations to his game -- he's not very good out of the shotgun, and he hasn't been much use as a receiver in many years. Meanwhile, Jerick McKinnon has looked excellent in his first two seasons, and he's much better out of shotgun formations. The Vikings can protect Peterson and quite possibly improve their offense by relying on McKinnon on third downs and in second-and-long, and he should get occasional first-down runs as well.
I think this is something that we here at DN have been saying for a while. We know that Peterson is as good a pure runner as there is in the National Football League, and is on the short list of the all-time greats. But he does have his limitations, and those limitations have made the Minnesota offense incredibly predictable. (Arif has a very good article on this that you can check out here.) Throw in the fact that, as we’ve said numerous times, Peterson is due $18 million next season, and it’s starting to look like the end of the Peterson era in Minnesota is nigh upon us. I’m guessing that, with the input of Tony Sparano and Pat Shurmur alongside Norv Turner, we’re going to see a less predictable Minnesota offense this year, and Jerick McKinnon figures to be a pretty big part of that.
In the FOA, you talk about the weakness of the Vikings’ offensive line and the receiving corps. Given those limitations, what do you see as realistic expectations for Teddy Bridgewater in his third year?
We're not sold on Laquon Treadwell, but with two new starters in Alex Boone and Andre Smith, the offensive line should be better in 2016 -- it's not like it could get much worse. What would that improvement mean for Bridgewater? Consider that he was 22nd out of 37 quarterbacks last year in our efficiency rankings, but he only ranked that low because he was pressured on a league-high 36 percent of his dropbacks. He was 12th in efficiency without pressure, and 14th in efficiency under pressure, but since all quarterbacks are worse under pressure (duh), he sunk in our rankings. If Bridgewater gets just average pass protection this year, and nothing else changes in any way, then he'll be nearly a top-ten quarterback in 2016.
It seems to me that people like the folks from Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus that actually watch Teddy Bridgewater play and see how he handles things on a football field really seem to like him. However, a majority of fans. . .non-Vikings fans, in any case. . .simply read the stat line and scream BLARGH LARGH TEDDY NOT VERY GOOD! Whatever. Teddy Bridgewater is a pretty damn good NFL quarterback, and if he doesn’t have to spend most of his time running for his life, the stats are going to follow.
Speaking of the offensive line, given just how awful they were in 2015, do you think they’ve done enough to fix the problems they had there?
I don't know what else they could have done, except pass on Treadwell to reach for Josh Garnett or Germain Ifedi in the draft. Boone and Smith were probably better than any Vikings lineman in 2015, and they will probably be the best two Minnesota linemen in 2016 too.
Well, Andre Smith looked pretty awful in the limited time he got in the preseason opener, but hopefully there’s still enough time to get that fixed. Given that Phil Loadholt decided to retire before the season and there really isn’t another good option at that spot, there certainly better be. This is still likely the biggest question mark on the roster, but hopefully there will be a better answer than what we saw in 2016.
We’ll have the rest of our Q&A with Vincent Verhei tomorrow morning, where we’ll talk a bit about the Minnesota defense.