Norv Turner told NFL.com that he wanted to “get out of the way and let them have a chance to make it work.”
“Them,” of course, is the Minnesota Vikings. So what was different for them on Sunday in their first game of the Mike Zimmer era without Turner as their offensive coordinator? Here are a few points of what looked different, where the results are the same and what could be ahead with Pat Shurmur taking over the offense:
WHAT’S THE SAME?
TOO LITTLE TIME TO ADD MUCH: For starters, with Turner resigning on Wednesday morning and the game plan largely in place at that point, the Vikings weren’t going to overhaul the scheme in a matter of days, or likely even weeks for that matter.
On such short notice, Shurmur said on Thursday, it was simply a matter of perhaps choosing different plays from a playbook that he said had plenty of options.
“This week I think the game plan was fairly set in place by the time Pat took over,” QB Sam Bradford said after the Vikings fell 22-16 to the Detroit Lions in overtime. “But it’ll be interesting to see how we go moving forward and how things will change. I thought Pat did a good job today just keeping it relatively simple. Getting the ball out quick, getting it to our guys in space and then trying to let them create on the perimeter.”
RED ZONE ISSUES: Certainly, there was no sudden barrage of points for the Vikings. They scored only 16 against the Lions, but even that was an improvement after needing fourth-quarter touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions to even get to 10 points. On Sunday, they would have scored 20 points and likely gotten the win had Blair Walsh not missed an extra point and had a field goal blocked.
The struggles in the red zone, however, remained.
The Vikings moved inside the Detroit 20-yard line five times, which was in improvement after averaging less than three trips per game, but scored only two touchdowns in those opportunities – a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph and a 1-yard touchdown run by Rhett Ellison.
From the usage of players to the play selection, there was plenty different, even if the scoreboard didn’t necessarily show it.
QUICK PASSING: For starters, Bradford was sacked only twice after taking 11 sacks over the previous two games. It was improvement for sure, but Zimmer wasn’t about to declare all protection issues solved.
“That shouldn’t be a goal, not to get sacked as much as the other previous games,” he said. “I thought they did some good things. I thought they fought well. I thought we handled some of the things that they did. They were blitzing a lot, similar to what Philadelphia did. I thought for (Alex) Boone not being in there and those other guys, we did some good things.”
According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings only gave up pressure on 26 percent of Bradford’s dropbacks, a big improvement over the 40 percent allowed over the previous two games.
“It was good that we were moving the ball. I think that obviously Sam was doing a good job of giving guys opportunities to run after the catch,” receiver Adam Thielen said.
Bradford was also more efficient when he was pressured, completing 66.7 percent of his passes and having a 104.4 rating when under duress, according to PFF, whereas in the previous two games he completed only 44 percent and had a 60.9 rating in those situations.
NEW PLAYING TIME: One of the adjustments needed seemed obvious. With the offensive line struggling to protect recently, it was a surprise that Ellison, their best blocking tight end, was used only 13 plays against the Eagles and nine times against the Bears. He played in 26 snaps on Sunday.
“We got in a little bit of a rhythm. We got the ball moving and got some first downs,” guard Brandon Fusco said. “The possession time was up there I felt like. I felt like we did some good things that way, but like I said, we just didn’t do enough to win.”
Ellison wasn’t the only player to see his most extensive playing time of the season. Rookie WR Laquon Treadwell played in 17 snaps, more than all of his offensive snaps combined in the previous seven games.
“It’s about time he started getting some plays,” Zimmer said.
Treadwell had the first catch of his career.
Nose tackle Linval Joseph also got some time on offense. Joseph lined up as a fullback for three short-yardage plays.
“Hopefully we can hand him the ball and let him run it in,” Bradford said.
NEW WRINKLES: Ellison wasn’t just a lead blocker. He scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, a play that Shurmur added last week.
“It was a schemed play. They didn’t see it coming, so it worked out,” Ellison said. “It was a new play.”
That came with Joseph and RB Matt Asiata both sending the action to the offense’s left and Ellison motioning to the right behind the line of scrimmage with only Rudolph over there on the edge to kick out the contain man.
“I think every week we try to add some new wrinkles and we felt good about the play to Rhett,” Bradford said. “It’s nice to get it called and execute the way we did.”
Rudolph’s touchdown catch was also the result of “eye candy,” with Joseph and Asiata drawing attention in a running look to the right, and drawing the defenders up to the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Rudolph slipped in behind them as a wide open target for Bradford.
“I thought they had a good rhythm today with some of the things that they’ve done,” he said. “I thought we had a good mixture of different things that we did as far as protections, quicks, movement passes in the pocket.”
No doubt the Vikings still have work to do with their offense, still struggling in short-yardage runs, but there were signs of improvement in other areas Sunday. Their protection was better, perhaps because the ball was coming out quicker. They showed some misdirection, which created touchdown opportunities.
Ultimately, they will be judged on wins and losses, as always, but at least this was closer to the team Zimmer wanted to see offensively.
“We moved the ball great up and down the field and Pat Shurmur made great calls that put us in situations to be successful. We just cannot shoot ourselves in the foot,” Rudolph said. “… The days of just lining up and beating people are not as easy, so we have things like that that are going to catch people off guard.”