5 Keys to Improving the Vikings Offense

Improving the Vikings Offense

 

This post is inspired by an interaction I had with B. and Dennis on Twitter in which they lamented the negativity of fans.
This will be my attempt to provide “critical educated analysis of areas where we need to improve” offensively and my underrated skill position player who holds the key to a supercharged Vikings O.

Improve Offensive Line Play

It’s been while since the Vikings have had a balanced, above average offensive line.  In previous years when the Vikings were built around Adrian Peterson, we often fielded a strong run blocking offensive line that was below average in pass protection.  While it’s fair to lament the thought of running one’s modern day NFL offense through a running back, even one of AP’s caliber, this was the formula during most the AP era and the results were less than ideal.  During this time period, the Vikings often targeted quarterbacks who could escape pressure and attempt to make plays outside of the pocket.

Fast forward to the 2016 version of the Minnesota offensive line.  It’s a group beset by injuries who can’t block in the run game, can’t pass protect, and our mobile, young QB with a knack for buying time blew up his knee weeks before the season.  Sam Bradford was thrust into an awful situation in 2016 and had arguably his best season.

In order to build on his successes in 2017, fielding an improved offensive line will be the key.  Our friend Eric Eager said it best,

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

“slightly below average”?  I’ll take it.

 

Improve in the Running Game

Not sure if you’ve heard but the Vikings won the NFL Draft.  As is our yearly custom, Rick Spielman and Co were able to extract maximum value.  Don’t believe me?  Ask Arif or just read his articlewhich explains our “victory.”

The crown jewel of our draft is Dalvin Cook.  Considered a sure-fire first round pick by most through the majority of the draft process, Cooks stock took a hit when his combine testing was underwhelming, his medical history was highlighted, and his off the field associations raised red flags.

 

Dalvin prospect comps provides more than enough reasons for optimism and my review of Football Outsiders Offensive Line stats over the past five seasons showed that bottom quartile offensive line groups saw an average improvement of 10 spots the following season.

First round running back + slightly below average run blocking offensive line = average running game?  If so, our offense will take a huge step forward.

Improve on Third Down

Mike Zimmer’s defense is the engine that will power the Vikings to success in 2017.  As I outlined in my article “Defense Wins,” Minnesota’s defensive DVOA has improved every year of Mike Zimmer’s tenure.

In 2014, Minnesota’s defense ranked 18th(1.92) and improved steadily during Zimmer tenure posting finishes of 12th in 2015 (1.77) and 7th in 2016 (1.72).  Football Outsiders Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) metric shows a similar trend with Minnesota going from 23rd to 14th to 9th across the past three seasons.

A closer look at last year’s number however show a defense that wore down as the season went on.  While the Vikings ranked 9th in defensive DVOA for the season, Minnesota’s weighted DVOA, which “better reflects how the team was playing at the end of the season,” had them ranked 18th.  One of the key way in which the Vikings offense can contribute to the team’s overall success (other than scoring more points) is to do a better job of extending drives.

According to www.sportingcharts.com, Minnesota finished 19th in third down efficiency with a conversion rate of 38.0%.  A deeper dive into the stats shows that an improved offensive line and running game should be help as the Vikings gained a paltry 2.7 per attempt on third downs in 2016 which was well below the league average of 4.6.  Sam Bradford will also need to improve in this area as his yards per attempt fell to 5.8 and his passer rating fell to 86.8 on third down.  Matthew Coller summarizes Bradford’s performance on third downs as follows:

Sam Bradford averaged only 5.8 yards per pass attempt on third down, which was only better than Blake Bortles and Ryan Fitzpatrick and on par with Jared Goff. Cleveland’s Cody Kessler, Houston’s Brock Osweiler and L.A.’s Case Keenum were all better on third down.  

 

Needless to say, this isn’t the sort of company we want our quarterback to be keeping.  Bradford also ranked 33rd of 34 qualified quarterback in Football Outsiders ALEXmetric in 2016.  ALEX measures what percentage of a quarterback’s third down throws go beyond to line to gain.  Bradford will need to be more aggressive on third downs in 2017 to help the Vikings offense reach new heights.

Create More Big Plays

Last season, the Vikings were the worst at creating big plays according to www.sportingcharts.com.  Sporting Charts defines a big plays as “rushing plays that are over 10 yards and passing plays that are over 25 yards.”  By this definition, Minnesota only generated a big play on 5.07% of plays.  For comparison, Buffalo led the league at 9.88%.
Let’s assume Dalvin Cook and our improved offensive line will fix things in the rushing department.
What do Sam Bradford and Pat Shurmur need to do to increase our big plays in the passing game?  Sometimes the answer is very easy.  We need to throw deep more often.  Sam Bradford throws an excellent deep ball.
EXHIBIT A

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

EXHIBIT B

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

EXHIBIT C?

h/t Eric Eager for these stats

In 2016, only Jared Goff (8.64%) attempted a lower percentage of pass travelling 20 yards or more downfield than Sam Bradford (8.78%).  While the awfulness of the Vikings offensive line in 2016 undoubtedly played a role in this approach, Sam Bradford has consistently ranked in the bottom half the league for average depth of target (aDOT) throughout his career.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

In 2017, Bradford and Shurmur will need to break their conservative tendencies to unleash Bradford’s downfield throwing prowess because downfield throws lead to big plays and big plays lead to points.

Improve in the Red Zone

The Vikings scored touchdowns on 46% of their trips to the red zone in 2016 which ranked 29th per Team Rankings.  During the Mike Zimmer era, Minnesota has been the fourth worst team in converting red zone plays to touchdowns.  Coincidentally, Minnesota has also ranked fourth highest in red zone run/pass ratio and second highest in field goal kicked per red zone plays run.  The Vikings’ brain trust has favored a risk averse red zone strategy that works to preserve the opportunity for a field goal try.  To save an attempt for three points the Vikings effectively punt on the opportunity for seven.  In 2016, NFL teams gained 3.3 yards per red zone pass attempt and scored touchdowns on 23% of them compared to 2.5 yards per rush attempt and a 20% touchdown rate on the ground.
The smart folks at FiveThirtyEightasked “When is it better to pass?” and their research determined “almost always” to be the answer.  Sam Bradford was not prolific in the red zone in 2016.  His red zone touchdown rate of 19% was slightly below the NFL average of 23% but it was still WAY better than Minnesota’s TD per run rate of 14%.
To sum things up:
More of this

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Less of this

 

 

Vikings Secret Weapon

Bucky Hodges holds the key to supercharging the Vikings offense.  My next post will delve deeper into this hot take. Until then, please enjoy these Hodges Highlights.

Stats from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s