After a devastating injury to starting QB Teddy Bridgewater, the Minnesota Vikings will be looking to rely on their running game and their stars on defense to return to the playoffs. Following a lackluster performance against the Tennessee Titans, the Vikings will turn to quarterback Sam Bradford to help improve the performance of Adrian Peterson.
Before perhaps the best Week 1 we’ve seen in the NFL for a long time, the Minnesota Vikings were picked by many to make the playoffs and potentially retain their NFC North crown. However, disaster struck before NFL festivities got underway, as starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered an horrific injury to his knee, both dislocating it and tearing his ACL, throwing the Vikings season into doubt.
And thus came to pass an enormous trade, as the Vikings gave the Philadelphia Eagles a first-round pick in 2017 and a fourth-round pick in 2018, which could rise to be a second-round pick, for quarterback Sam Bradford; ITP’s own Ethan Young wrote a great piece in an innovative attempt to quantify this trade.
Along came Week 1 and the Vikings opened the season with a matchup against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. Journeyman quarterback Shaun Hill got the start, so it was more than likely that the Vikings offense would be carried by none other than running back Adrian Peterson.
The Titans saw this coming. They lined up eight, sometimes nine defenders in the box to nullify Peterson, and it worked. Peterson was tackled for a loss on five of his carries for a loss of 12 yards as he finished the day with 19 rushes for 31 yards, averaging just 1.6 yards per carry. His longest run was a mere 9 yards.
The Vikings ran with Peterson on the first snap of their first offensive possession, but notice here how many Titans defenders are in the box, expecting run. Peterson manages only a 1-yard gain.
The same thing happens here later in the first quarter and Peterson is again only able to manage a minimal gain.
Fast forward to the last play of the third quarter, with the Vikings ahead 12-10. The Vikings have struggled to run the ball all day and this time they bring in wide receiver Stefon Diggs (#14) to help block the run to the right. However, the Titans do a great job of filling their gaps and giving Peterson no room to run, dropping him for a loss of 5 yards.
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Peterson’s longest run of the day was for 9 yards on the very last play of the 1st quarter. I’ve highlighted guard Brandon Fusco (#63) who does a great job of creating a hole for Peterson and continuing to block into the second level as the play progresses.
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The Titans’ defense had a simple game plan here; stop Peterson and dare Hill to beat them through the air. While the Vikings struggled to run the ball, the pass-protection on the offensive line was very good. Hill was not sacked in this game and was hit only four times, but the run blocking has to improve and be more consistent, with the tight ends doing a better job of creating space, if the Vikings are to be an effective running team.
The Sam Bradford effect?
The Vikings won this game 25-16, in large part because of their defense accounting for two touchdowns.
But once Bradford is ready to operate this offense defenses will almost certainly begin to line up differently. Safeties will have to account for the pass more, so will play a little deeper. Peterson should face fewer men in the box as a result. The Vikings can also play wider receiver sets and stretch the field more. Bradford is a better quarterback than Hill and if you dare him to beat you he can certainly do so with the receivers and tight ends the Vikings have. He’ll also push the ball downfield a little more, and better, than Hill can.
It’s only Week 1, and the end result was a victory, so there’s obviously no need to panic here for the Vikings and their fans. But they’ll soon face better defensive personnel than that of the Titans and they’ll have to get Peterson going to give them a better chance of returning to the playoffs.
Follow Justin on Twitter @JustinTwell78. Check out his work here, including on how the Detroit Lions will fare without Megatron, the elite Minnesota Vikings’ linebacker corps, the potential for a breakout season from the Chicago Bears’ Eddie Goldman, and how the return of Jordy Nelson helps the Packers.
All film courtesy of NFL Game Pass