Tag Archives: Sam Bradford

The Film Room: Viking Offense Seeking Traction

It’s been a stiff downturn for Mike Zimmer’s Minnesota Vikings since they hit their bye three weeks ago.  A perfect 5-0 at the time, the Vikings have lost all three games since.  The defense that allowed 12.6 points a game and not more than 16 points through the first five have (after last week’s 22-16 overtime loss to Detroit) now allowed an average of 21 points over the last 3 games.  But the biggest concern has been the fading Viking offense.

Though their undefeated start, Minnesota scored 23.8 points per game, 302.6 total offensive yards per games and 232 passing yards per game. Quarterback Sam Bradford – who had taken over as the starter in week two – completed 70.4% of his passes during his four victories (88 for 125) for 990 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.  His passer rating at the time was 109.7.

In losses to Philadelphia and Chicago, all of this came to a halt.  They scored only 10 points in each game, averaging just 270 total yards and 195 passing yards.  Bradford, in those two games, completed just 47 of 78 passes (60.3%) for just 452 yards.  He threw only 2 touchdown passes in those games while throwing his first interception of the season.  His rating was a very pedestrian 79.6 in those games.

The Viking offense reached its nadir on its last possession of the first half.  Two minutes and twenty-seven seconds into the second quarter, the Vikings’ defense flushed Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford from the pocket where he launched an ill-advised pass up the right sideline.  Viking linebacker Chad Greenway was waiting for it.  His interception and subsequent return gave Minnesota a first-and-ten on the Detroit 18.  There was 12:25 left in the second quarter of a 3-3 game.

A first-down run gained four yards.  Second-and-six from the Detroit 14.

On second down, the slightest flinch from embattled right tackle T.J. Clemmings drew a flag.  The penalty pushed the ball back to the Detroit 19.  Second and 11.

A wide-receiver screen to Stefon Diggs managed only two yards – but worse than that left-guard Jeremiah Sirles drew a questionable block-in-the-back penalty.  The good news was that it was still just second down.  Unfortunately, it was now second down and 19 from the Detroit 27.

The good news on the third-down play was there was no penalty called.  The bad news is that even if the Vikings had been guilty of an infraction, the Lions would have probably declined it.  Ronnie Hillman took a quick pitch from Bradford intending to scoot around right end.  Before he could take his second step, he was met in the backfield by half the Detroit defense.  The Vikings lost four yards on the play.

On third and 23 from the Detroit 31, the same suspect right side of the Minnesota offensive line that couldn’t run block the play before proved just as ineffective as pass blockers.  Lined up over right guard Brandon Fusco, tackle Haloti Ngata stunted around right end.  Fusco lost him in the shuffle and ended up trailing Ngata all the way to the quarterback.  But Ngata was only the second to arrive.

Driving inside on the T-E stunt, end Kerry Hyder got under Clemmings’ pads and blew past him, running almost completely unimpeded as he brought Bradford down on the 40 yard line.

Two minutes and twenty-nine seconds after they had set up shop with a first down at the Detroit 18, Minnesota was punting from the 40.  There was still 9:56 left in the half, but Minnesota wouldn’t see the ball again until the third quarter.  Following the punt, Detroit would run almost ten minutes off the clock as they moved 84 yards in 17 grinding plays for the touchdown that sent them into the locker room at the half leading 10-3.

Through their first eight games, the unspectacular Detroit defense has allowed 23.8 points per game, while allowing 255.6 passing yards and 341.1 total yards per game.  To this point in the season, the passer rating against the Detroit pass defense was a problematical 113.7.

But as they trotted into the halftime locker room, that defense had stiffed the Minnesta offense to the tune of 3 points and 105 yards.  Bradford had completed 11 of 15 tosses (73.3%) but for only 84 yards, carrying a mediocre 86.5 passer rating into the locker room.

The Viking offense had fallen into (and would subsequently work their way out of) a common trap.  While their offensive line had struggled, Minnesota had – by degrees – tried to remove them from the game plan to the point where they never threw the ball downfield and made only halting attempts to run the ball.  Assuming that there would be no help from the line, the Viking offense had degraded to the point where it was just a series of quick dump-off passes.

Minnesota would go on to lose this game, but they would rebound to score 13 points in the second half on 232 offensive yards.  After averaging 4.2 yards per play in the first half, they averaged 5.5 in the second.  They made two important changes to their offensive philosophy that brought them their first spark of life since week five – and a source of hope for their upcoming games.

First, the Viking offense re-dedicated to the run.  In the first half, they ran the ball just 9 times.  Only twice did Bradford hand off on consecutive plays.  They ran the ball 16 times in the second half.  They didn’t run especially well – they managed just 48 yards on those runs (3.0 per) – but they showed a willingness to pound on the Lion defense.

This had two critical benefits.  First, it allowed the offensive line to become invested in the game.  It gave them a chance to dictate action to Detroit instead of trying to react to them.  Secondly – and perhaps, more importantly – it took some of the spring out of the pass rush.  Even though the running game didn’t net a lot of yards, its contribution was substantial.

The second important adjustment they made was to start throwing the deep ball.  Not having to worry about downfield passes, the Lions since the opening kick had been squatting on the Vikings short routes.  So, as the second half started, Minnesota started challenging them down the field.  Not a lot.  Of Bradford’s 25 second half throws, maybe five challenged the Lions deep.  But that was all they needed.  Bradford didn’t even complete any of these deep passes (although one did draw an important pass interference call), but just the fact that those routes were back in the offense improved things drastically.

Bradford still averaged less than ten yards a completion (9.45 to be exact), but his passing line for the second half was a much more effective 20 for 25 (80%) for 189 yards, 1 touchdown and no interceptions.  His rating for that half was an impressive 113.6.  After converting one of five third-down opportunities in the first half, the Viking offense was 5 for 9 in the second.

Whether they will (or can) continue this improvement against Washington tomorrow remains to be seen.  But the offense’s second half showing against Detroit was the best news Viking fans have had since the bye week.

The NLF Gamebook for this contest can be found here, and the Football Reference summary is here.

What’s Wrong With the Vikings and the Seahawks?

The Minnesota Vikings carried a 5-0 record into their Week 7 contest against the then 3-2 Philadelphia Eagles.  They were convincingly thumped by Philadelphia, 21-10.

That evening, the Seattle Seahawks carried their 4-1 record into Arizona to play the 3-3 Cardinals.  Seventy-five excruciating minutes later the two teams staggered off the field with a 6-6 tie.

Both the Vikings and the Seahawks have done some very good things through the first half of the season, but last Sunday they shared a common flaw – one that casts a significant shadow over their futures.  Both have offensive lines that are liabilities.

Minnesota Vikings

Offensive tackle wasn’t a position of great strength even as the season began.  It became a pronounced liability when starting left tackle (and one-time Pro Bowl selection) Matt Kalil went on season-ending injured reserve with a torn labrum in his hip after the season’s second game.

The right tackle spot was manned by Andre Smith – a former first-round pick by the Bengals who made 73 starts in Cincinnati before signing with Minnesota.  He lasted six plays into the fourth game of the season before a triceps injury sent him to IR as well.

Now what?

Well, against Philadelphia they tried varying combinations of T.J. Clemmings (a fourth round pick from the 2015 draft who was last year’s starting right tackle – the position they wanted to upgrade), Jeremiah Sirles (an undrafted free agent who made just his third start in three years last week), and Jake Long (signed before last week’s game, the 31-year-old Long was a former Pro-Bowl caliber tackle in Miami before injuries compromised his career).

As you might guess, this didn’t work very well for the Vikings (although it did make for some highlight reel footage for Eagle defensive ends Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham).  As the game progressed, the Eagles also found that they could blitz pretty much at will as Minnesota’s offense could do little to counter it.

Quarterback Sam Bradford ended up taking a beating.  With little running game and less protection, it’s difficult to imagine anything more Bradford could have done to win the game.  That being said, with the Vikings still 5-1 and leading their division it’s time we begin a discussion about Sam Bradford and his ability to lead a team deep into the playoffs.

Bradford

This is my Sam Bradford moment:

It is Week Two of 2015.  Bradford’s Eagles are hosting the Dallas Cowboys.  The Eagles are having significant difficulty with the Dallas defense (they go 2 for 11 on third down and are shutout until the first minute of the fourth quarter).  I don’t remember the precise moment or play, but during one of the failed third down plays, the camera caught Bradford’s reaction (maybe to a dropped pass?).

I don’t remember the play, but Sam’s reaction has stuck with me.  His shoulders slumped, he bowed his head, and crept quietly to his sideline.

Is this a big deal?  It kind of is.  This moment iconifies my lingering feeling about Bradford.  I think Sam is a quality NFL passer.  He reads defenses well, makes good decisions, and throws with plus accuracy.  But if I were to describe him as a leader the adjective that keeps coming to mind is “meek.”  There is a pervasive meekness in Bradford’s game.  In a Biblical sense, this is probably a very good thing as the meek will inherit the earth (and Sam certainly inherited a lot of it last Sunday).  But it’s not a great demeanor for the leader of your football team to have.

By this, I don’t mean that Sam should be yelling at receivers who drop passes or linemen who get penalties.  And I certainly don’t mean to say that he should worship himself the way that Cam Newton does.  But the quarterback of an NFL team can’t retire quietly to the bench and sit and wait for the next time his team gets the ball.  Watch any of the Minnesota games this year that Bradford has started.  When the Vikings don’t have the ball and the camera finds Bradford on the sidelines, he’s never standing and talking to anyone.  He is always sitting, quiet and alone, on the bench – sometimes with his head down.

You never see this with the top quarterbacks.  Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Newton, etc – they are always with somebody – the offensive coordinator, his O-line, some defensive player.  They are always discussing something – or putting their arm around the shoulder of a receiver who dropped the ball.  Quarterbacking a team extends beyond what happens once the ball is in your hands.  There is a leadership imperative that everyone can’t necessarily embrace.  It certainly helps to have a certain amount of charisma going for you.

This doesn’t mean that Bradford can never win a Super Bowl.  But I don’t think of him as that quarterback who can raise the level of the team he plays for.  The Bradys of the world can lift a good team to a great team.  Sam Bradford will need to have a great team around him.

And that will have to include an offensive line that can keep him upright and healthy.

Seattle

As for Seattle, this was the number four offense in the league last year – both for yards and for points.  They were held under 20 points only five times all of last year, and scored 30 or more seven times.  In six games this year, they have been held under 13 points three times already (something that only happened once all of last year) and have managed 30 points just once (they scored 37 against the mostly hapless 49ers).

Marshawn Lynch, of course, is gone and Thomas Rawls – so impressive in his seven starts last year as Lynch’s replacement – is injured.  Also injured is quarterback Russell Wilson, who’s legs accounted for 553 rushing yards last year.  Russell is playing, but staying in the pocket while he nurses knee and ankle injuries.  So the running game isn’t a particular strength at the moment.

Like the Vikings, though, the problem runs deeper than lack of name players to carry the ball.  The Seahawks, too, are less than proficient along the offensive line.

From last year’s offense to the 2016 edition that currently ranks twenty-second in yards and twenty-eighth in points, only one offensive lineman remains in the same place – right tackle Garry GilliamJustin Britt – who started at left tackle last year is also still in the mix, but he has now been moved to center.  The other three who started for this team last year are gone.

Russell Okung, last year’s starting left tackle (a former Pro Bowler) took the money and went to Denver.  Patrick Lewis, last year’s starting center, is now in Buffalo (where he is nursing a knee injury).  And J.R. Sweezy, last year’s right guard, is now in Tampa Bay (and suffering from a back injury that has kept him off the field so far).

In their place, Seattle has stitched together the offensive line with Bradley Sowell (an undrafted free-agent with his third team in his five-year career) at left tackle, Mark Glowinski (a fourth-round pick of the Hawks in 2015 who made one start last year), and this year’s first-round pick, Germain Ifedi at right guard.

They have been pushed around a little bit so far this season, helping in no little degree to hamper the offense.  Some of these players don’t have high pedigrees, but that means less than some people imagine.  Every year the Pro Bowl teams are populated with several players who began their careers as undrafted free agents, cut by more than one team.  This may yet develop into an effective unit.

But they aren’t there yet.