Teams are often defined by their franchise players on offense and, whether they like or it not, Bradford is now the franchise player on the Vikings offense.
In the offenses run by Bill Musgrave and later Norv Turner, the Vikings were a run-first group that was endorsed by head coach Mike Zimmer. Zimmer cut his coaching teeth with the Dallas Cowboys during the height of the Emmitt Smith era and Turner had his greatest level of coaching success with the San Diego Chargers when likely 2017 Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson was toting the rock.
As a result of being a run-first offense, the Vikings made a point to draft or sign free agents on the offensive line that fit that mold. Lineman were big maulers whose primary job was to be physical up front and steering defenders to create running lanes. More importantly, the offense was catered to accentuate the strengths of Adrian Peterson, who initially didn’t like fullbacks and seemingly required a quarterback to line up under center with him seven yards deep.
That offensive philosophy didn’t mesh with what Bradford did and, just as importantly, what offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur favors. Both are very comfortable lining the quarterback up in the shotgun and throwing the ball early and often, allowing the short passing game to serve the dual purpose of potential downfield strikes or dump off short passes that serve as de facto running plays.
The results were obvious that the Vikings turned a corner to go in a new direction during the season, which may explain why Turner left the team in the middle of the season when it became clear that the best chance for the Vikings offense to survive was to come out passing and keep it up.
Injuries on the offensive line played a part, but the contrast in the offense that the Vikings started with and ended with was as stark a contrast as you could find.
From 2010-15, the Vikings never had receivers that were at or near the top of the receiving ranks. In 2010, they had just two players with more than 40 receptions. In 2011, they only had one player (Percy Harvin) with more than 38 receptions. In 2012, the team had just two players with more than 40 catches. In 2013 and 2014, they had three players with more than 40, but only one with more than 50. In 2015, they had just two players with more than 40 catches and Stefon Diggs was the team leader with just 52.
Perhaps nowhere was this offensive change in philosophy more pronounced than when Peterson attempted his ill-fated comeback against Indianapolis. Suddenly, Bradford was asked to line up under center, effectively tipping the Vikings’ hand that they were going to be running, and the results were the same as most games when the Vikings tried to force-feed the run to suit Peterson’s style.
On Monday, Peterson made the claim that he wants to finish his career as a Viking, but the clear perception is that, with Shurmur as the offensive coordinator and Bradford as the quarterback, the best plan for offensive success is to line up in the shotgun and be a pass-first offense that keeps defenses honest by mixing in the run. Teddy Bridgewater came to the Vikings as a quarterback who played his best in the shotgun, so, when and if he makes a full recovery, the offense wouldn’t have to revert to something different in order to be successful.
The reality of what the Vikings face in the offseason is that, despite his bust already on the radar in Canton, Peterson isn’t a good fit with the offense Minnesota is now running because it doesn’t revolve around him and, with his price tag, it may be that decision more than anything else, that runs Peterson out of town.
With the exception of 2009, the Minnesota offense was the domain of Peterson, but that time would appear to have passed and the Bradford era is ready to begin.