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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings will take aim this offseason to ‘manipulate’ offense into a workable mix

By Andrew Krammer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The lockers are cleaned out. The exit interviews ongoing. As players vacate for the winter, questions for the 2016 season fill the void between coaches, scouts and executives at Winter Park.

Chief among them is how can the Vikings turn around one of the NFL’s least dynamic offenses?

The past season was a success by many measures. Eleven wins and a division title in the second season under coach Mike Zimmer resurrected winning ways they’d only found once since Brett Favre wore purple. A top-five scoring defense with young cornerstones at every position should ensure the Vikings’ recent success won’t be as fleeting as the playoff years of 2009 or 2012.

Adrian Peterson’s return went as expected on the ground, becoming just the league’s third-ever rushing champion (1,485 yards) after his 30th birthday. But a clear disconnect existed between the pieces on offense, namely Peterson and second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. With Bridgewater’s uneven arm, the Vikings couldn’t take advantage of loaded fronts, caused by Peterson’s presence, in the passing game. In the same vein, they struggled to get Peterson involved on passing downs due to his ineffectiveness as a route runner and pass protector.

As the Vikings turn the page to next season, much of their attention will be spent on blending the pieces to resuscitate an offense that fell from 27th to 29th this season: “We didn’t do enough there,” Zimmer said Tuesday during his season-ending press conference.

“I’m just trying to figure out how we manipulate this a little bit better,” he said. “To get to where we want to get to.”

Zimmer publicly shouldered much of the blame, openly questioning whether he should’ve played Peterson in the preseason as they reintroduced him into Norv Turner’s offense, and for the first time with Bridgewater instead of 2014’s season-opening starter in Matt Cassel.

Peterson didn’t play in the preseason for the fourth straight year. They instead felt their way through the Bridgewater-Peterson pairing during the season, pivoting from a game plan in the Week 1 loss at San Francisco that saw Peterson take four of his 10 carries while standing next to Bridgewater in a shotgun formation.

“I probably made some mistakes,” Zimmer said. “[Peterson] is out for the year, we come back, I don’t play him in the preseason games and then we’re kind of figuring out things. I felt like we were figuring things out a little bit at the beginning of the year, especially offensively with that whole dynamic. That was probably a mistake that I made. I probably should have been more involved with trying to get things, and I don’t know, maybe playing him [in the preseason]. Just different things that I probably should have figured out.”

The Vikings’ offensive shift began as soon as Week 2, when Peterson dominated a victory over the Detroit Lions by tying his season high with 29 carries. Bridgewater started to take more snaps under center, and away from a shotgun formation that he had operated to the third-best completion percentage in league history by a rookie (64.4).

Bridgewater’s numbers either improved or remained the same in his first full season as a starter. There wasn’t a regression as much as a lack of taking the “extra step,” as Bridgewater described his goal for the 2016 season. There are mechanical kinks the Vikings want ironed out in Bridgewater’s throwing motion as well. However, an evolving offense may have kept him on unstable ground from the start.

There was also a disconnect in communication. The 23-year-old Bridgewater wasn’t always vocal in expressing his opinion on certain concepts or plays to an offensive coordinator in Turner who has as much experience in the NFL as Bridgewater has on earth. The result, which included a porous offensive line culminating in the firing of position coach Jeff Davidson, led to the second-worst passing attack in the NFL.

“I think what was asked of my position,” Bridgewater said. “I think we did a good job of doing what was asked of it, and now it’s just time to take that extra step.

“I have to do a good job of communicating with [coaches], so we’re all going to be on the same page and when we come back in the spring, it’s going to be full speed.”

The Vikings expect Turner to remain offensive coordinator for his third season in 2016. So, any improvements will have to come between a compromise among coaches in the game plan and players on the field.

They felt their way through some of those compromises this season, including one that largely removed Peterson from the field on third downs. He was on the field for fewer than a quarter of the Vikings’ third downs in 2015.

On Monday, Peterson didn’t waste time to point the finger at himself. He’d twice called out coaching along with players after he was sparingly involved in blowout losses to the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, illustrating the coaching staff’s lack of confidence in him during passing situations.

Many of those snaps went to running back Jerick McKinnon, who saw an increasing role in the offense as a flexible option capable of lining up at both receiver and running back. Peterson saw that, specifically as McKinnon took an entire fourth-quarter series in the Vikings’ 10-9 playoff loss to Seattle on Sunday, and said this week he’d like to be a “better fit” for the offense.

“When I look back overall, there’s so much more that I want to be involved in,” Peterson said. “And I think I have to take it upon myself going into my third year in this offense, the second actually being around, there’s a lot I have to take on to contribute.

“Just being more versatile, you look at the young guys, Jerick, he comes in a lot on third down and he presents a different piece to our offense, running routes and things like that. I envision myself doing things like that at a different level so that’s what I mean by being more involved and being more diverse when it comes to the offense we have.”

The Vikings will have many critical decisions on offense to make this spring. If Peterson is on the roster by the third day of the new league year (March 17), when much of his salary becomes guaranteed, he’ll be on the team in 2016. The offensive line will start with a new position coach, and potentially new personnel. They rotated receivers throughout the season and have decisions to make with Mike Wallace, whose cap hit spikes to $11.5 million next year, and Cordarrelle Patterson, who hasn’t amounted to much outside of a kick returner as the 29th-overall pick from 2013.

All while they aim to blend the Bridgewater-Peterson pairing into a workable mix for next season.

“I think [Bridgewater] does a good job when he’s under center,” Zimmer said. “I think Adrian can do a better job when he’s in the gun. There’s a combination of things.”

The post Vikings will take aim this offseason to ‘manipulate’ offense into a workable mix appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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