One of the biggest struggles for the Minnesota Vikings throughout the 2015 season was balancing the strengths of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Adrian Peterson. Bridgewater usually seemed more comfortable working out of the shotgun formation and Peterson has always preferred to work with the quarterback under center.
Having the strengths differ like that led to a less-than-desirable production for most of the season and rather predictable play-calling. If Peterson was in the game and the offense was lined up in the shotgun, the play was more than likely a pass, and it was usually a run if they were lined up under center.
“I think it’s got to be a little bit of a combination. There’s things we can do better out of the gun. And I think Adrian can do better out of the gun. And I think there’s things we can do better under center, that Teddy can do better,” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I think it’s that combination … I don’t think we can be in the gun all day. And I don’t think we can be under the center all day.
“There’s times you want to get in the gun on first and second down, but you gotta be able to run the ball out of it. You can’t just throw the ball when you’re in the gun. Then when you get under center, it’s the same thing. You can’t just hand the ball off, you have to have some solid play-action passes and you have to have some movement passes and you have to have some drop backs. I think we need to package things a little bit more so that everything is together.”
Zimmer eluded to the fact that finding this sort of balance between playing in the shotgun and with the quarterback under center played a big role in the hiring of Tony Sparano and Pat Shurmur. Throughout their years coaching in the NFL, Sparano has had a lot of experience working with quarterbacks under center and Shurmur has had a lot of experience working with quarterbacks in the shotgun and in the West Coast offense.
Having them present in the offense, along with the watchful eye of Norv Turner, should help give Bridgewater an understanding of what he needs to do to improve his game.
Another thing that Zimmer wants to see Bridgewater improve on is learning to throw the ball, even when the receiver doesn’t look open. He wants the quarterback to trust that his receivers will come down with the ball, or at least break the pass up, and not worry so much about being perfect.
“Teddy is a tremendous kid. He’s a big-time pleaser. He knows we don’t want to turn the ball over,” Zimmer explained. “But sometimes I think he has that subconscious thing in his mind where he doesn’t want to hurt the team where there are times when he can help the team. I told him one time during the season, ‘Teddy, I know you know I don’t want you to throw interceptions and I know you don’t want to turn the ball over, but we play pretty good defense and if you know a ball gets tipped or something, don’t worry about it. Just go out and play and be yourself.’ And I think that’s when he plays the best, when he just goes out and plays. It’s not, ‘OK, well, Norv will get mad at me if I do this’ or ‘Coach will yell at me if I do that.’ I think he’s just better when he feels comfortable and confident in the things he does.”
If Bridgewater can learn to just let the ball fly from time to time, it could start to open things up more for Peterson and the running game. By throwing deep, Bridgewater is showing that the offense is willing to be aggressive in the passing game, which will cause the defensive backs to stay back a little longer, since the last thing they want to do is get beat deep.
That means that the middle of the field should be open a little longer, leaving more room for Peterson to run. He proved last year that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank, ending the season as the NFL’s leading rusher. But it was also apparent that he got a little worn down facing eight- or nine-man boxes every time he ran the ball.
“I think (Peterson) can still handle the same role he’s had,” Zimmer said. “I think we have to do a better job of continuing trying to get him more space to run so he’s not running into a 100 guys all the time.”
There were times late in the season where the Vikings offense seemed to be clicking on all cylinders, but it struggled carrying that success from one game to another. That will be the next step they have to take if they hope to continue the upward trend they have been on since Zimmer took over.
Peterson has already said that he is planning to improve his skill set out of the shotgun this offseason, but at this point in his career it could be hard for him to change the way he plays. What may be more likely is having Bridgewater become more comfortable under center and then utilize Jerick McKinnon more when the team lines up in the shotgun.
Not only is McKinnon more comfortable working out of the shotgun than Peterson is, but by increasing his snap count the Vikings will be able to keep Peterson fresher for longer.