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Vikings Offensive Approach is Evolving Under Shurmur

Posted Jul 14, 2017

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings offensive approach in 2016 evolved considerably for multiple and substantial reasons.

Quick Rewind

Teddy Bridgewater’s season-ending knee injury prompted a trade for Sam Bradford.

Adrian Peterson’s torn meniscus in Week 2 shelved him for all but one more game the rest of his final season in Purple.

A bevy of injuries also struck the offensive line, forcing eight different combinations of starting five linemen and five different players at left tackle.

The Vikings entered training camp with Norv Turner in his third season as offensive coordinator and promoted Pat Shurmur to interim offensive coordinator for the final nine games of the season after Turner’s resignation.

Minnesota Head Coach Mike Zimmer lifted the interim designation from Shurmur, brought in Kennedy Polamalu to coach running backs, Clancy Barone to coach tight ends and slid Kevin Stefanski from running backs to the quarterback room, where his tenure as a Vikings assistant coach began in 2009.

The Vikings replenished the tackle position early in free agency by signing Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers and bolstered the running back position by signing Latavius Murray and drafting Dalvin Cook.

Play

Bradford and the offensive players have benefited from a full offseason program together, working to lay a foundation for when the veterans report to Mankato for Verizon Vikings Training Camp on July 26.

A fan question about the Vikings offensive identity in 2017 led off the most recent “Pick 6 Mailbag” with Vikings.com’s Mike Wobschall.

A run-heavy team? A pass-prominent team?

The goal is to be able to run the ball when you want to run the ball and throw the ball well when you want to throw the ball, keeping in mind the importance of possession to help a stalwart defense that has continued to improve under Zimmer.

One NFL adage is, “Throw to score. Run to win.”

After ranking fourth in the NFL with 2,211 rushing yards in 2015, the Vikings fell to last in the category last season, finishing with 1,205 yards on the ground.

Minnesota turned to the passing game much more in 2016. Bradford set a franchise record with 395 completions and an NFL record with a completion percentage of 71.6. The 395 completions outnumbered the Vikings rush attempts by 15 and their number of completions in 2015 by 101.

Fast forward

Look for the Vikings to try to avoid having to be too reliant on one more than the other going forward but also try to deliver more chunk plays than a year ago.

The Vikings had just seven rush plays of 15 or more yards in 2016, including scrambles of 15 and 24 yards by Bradford. Five of those rushes occurred after Shurmur became interim offensive coordinator.

Minnesota had 53 passes of 20 or more yards, which included 16 of 31 or more yards last season. Nine of those occurred in Shurmur’s nine games.

In Shurmur’s first year as offensive coordinator in Philadelphia (2013) where he helped with Chip Kelly’s fast-tempo attack, the Eagles set an NFL record with 99 plays of 20 or more yards.

Philadelphia had five different players with at least one rush of 21 or more yards and nine players with a reception of 31 or more yards. LeSean McCoy led the NFL with 1,607 yards to score his second All-Pro designation and second of five Pro Bowls, and DeSean Jackson caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine scores to garner his third selection to the Pro Bowl.

That amount of proliferation on offense may not be best suited for the Vikings, but doses of explosive plays could help. 

That 2013 Eagles team put up 442 points, but it also gave up 382 points. Philadelphia had an average time of possession 2:06, compared to 2:44 by opponents.

The 2016 Vikings finished with 327 points for, compared to 307 points allowed. Minnesota’s average time of possession was 2:49, compared to 2.42 by opponents.

The sequel

Kyle Rudolph and Bradford are two of the best Vikings to offer a preview of what to expect from Shurmur.

Rudolph was working directly with Shurmur as his tight ends coach this time a year ago and went on to set a Vikings tight ends record with 83 receptions in 2016. He also led the team with seven touchdown receptions last season, pushing his career total to 29, the most by a Minnesota tight end.

“I think one of the things that Pat Shurmur does well, and is what we have kind of got to as he took over last year, was recognizing what we do well and trying to make things simpler for us, yet more complex to the defense,” Rudolph said last month as the Vikings wrapped up their offseason program. “If we can do things that we do well, let’s just do those things more often, and I think that is one of the things that we got to last year, and we were able to see our offense kind of kicking up strides there to the end and culminating that last game against the Bears.”

Minnesota closed the season with season bests of points for (38) and rushing yards (124), got a season-long rush of 36 yards by Jerick McKinnon and scored on five of its first eight possessions of the game.

The Vikings took plenty of deep shots during the offseason program. Some were successful, and some were broken up by defenders. Others resulted in pass interference calls, which can also be helpful.

“Those are plays that we have to hit in order for us to be able to do everything that we want as an offense,” Rudolph said. “Making plays down the field is definitely part of it.

Bradford was drafted by the Rams when Shurmur was in his second season as offensive coordinator. The duo also worked together in Philadelphia in 2015 before the surprise reunion between the two in Minnesota last September.

Bradford talked about increased interaction between Zimmer and the offense this offseason and how he’s been able to see Shurmur have time to put more of his stamp on the offense.

“Obviously last year, I think, was a little unique to everyone, so I think [Zimmer] was just trying to help give me some space to just allow me to spend time with Norv [Turner] and with Pat [Shurmur], just get used to the offense and try to figure out what we are doing,” Bradford said. “This year we have had a lot more conversations, and it has been great.”