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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Is starting Week 1 too much to ask of Sam Bradford?

By Matthew Coller

To start Sam Bradford or not to start Sam Bradford? That is the [really, really hard] question for Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. History may not be on Bradford’s side…

On October 19, 2011, the Cincinnati Bengals granted quarterback Carson Palmer his wish to be traded. Palmer, unhappy with the Bengals’ organization, had said he would rather retire than play in Cincinnati again, so the team moved him to the Oakland Raiders for a first-round pick and conditional second. In his first game as a Raider, Palmer went 8-for-21 with three interceptions in a 28-0 loss to Kansas City. His disastrous start should act as a cautionary tale for the Vikings as they consider whether to start newly-acquired QB Sam Bradford or backup Shaun Hill against the Tennessee Titans.

The Raiders were forced to deal for Palmer after starter Jason Campbell broke his collarbone. At the time, Oakland was 4-2 and appeared to have a team worthy of making the playoffs for the first time since their Super Bowl loss against the Bucs in 2003.

After a rough start to the Raiders’ Week 7 game against the Chiefs, head coach Hue Jackson benched backup Kyle Boller and threw Palmer to the wolves, hoping Palmer could lead a magical comeback. Instead the veteran quarterback struggled badly.

While Palmer hit a couple of his signature deep balls, he had difficulties in two major areas that Bradford could also find challenging if he starts against Tennessee: Chemistry with wide receivers and checks at the line of scrimmage.

Chemistry

Norv Turner and Pat Shurmur may be able to create an offense with a handful of concepts that Bradford can grasp quickly, establishing timing with receivers will be a major hurdle.

Here’s an example with Palmer and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey where the former USC quarterback has his man open on a comeback route but tosses the ball too early.

After an up-and-down start against the Broncos for his second game, Palmer and the Raiders faced off with the San Diego Chargers in his third contest as the No. 1 quarterback. The then-Oakland QB went 14-for-20 with 299 yards and two touchdowns.

By his third appearance, timing was no longer an issue. In fact, he completed the same route. It wasn’t a perfect throw because he had to alter his arm angle, but Palmer threw the ball right as his receiver was coming out of his break.

The Vikings used many routes with Teddy Bridgewater that required flawless timing between the quarterback and receiver. Here’s an example of Bridgewater and Adam Thielen being on the same page on a post pattern in the middle of the field.

Speaking with the media Monday, neither Zimmer, Bradford and his teammates downplayed the effect of bringing a new quarterback into the mix. They acknowledged the uphill battle.

“It’s a steep learning curve,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said after practice Monday. “Norv’s offense is pretty complicated but if anyone’s up to the task and if anyone is intelligent enough to grasp it quickly it would be Sam.”

Even if Bradford is smart enough to get it quickly, teams take months installing offenses for a reason. So he will need a good deal of help from Turner if he is going to play against Tennessee. One of the ways the Vikings can mitigate the effects of chemistry is to use screens and quick slants and look for yards after catch from wide receivers and running backs.

Two of his weapons to keep an eye on are running back Jerick McKinnon, who averaged 8.2 yards per catch out of the backfield last year. Stefon Diggs’ explosiveness was utilized often in the short passing game. Of his 720 yards, 300 came after the catch, the most on the Vikings last year.

Blitz pickup

The Tennessee Titans will be telling media all week that they are preparing for the Vikings the same way no matter who starts at quarterback. Yeah, sure. While Shaun Hill isn’t exactly Brett Favre when facing the blitz, he understands all the checks and changes to make in Minnesota’s offense.

This is an area where Palmer struggled in his debut as a Raider.

Here, the Chiefs overload the left side and a safety comes free at Palmer. Normally, he would have identified the blitz and checked to give himself another option. Instead, Palmer has no other choice but to either take the sack or launch the ball down the field.

Three weeks later against Minnesota, the Vikings try something similar to his right. This time, Palmer has an outlet.

Following practice on Monday, center Joe Berger said Bradford will have a lot of the control when it comes to protection decisions.

“In their room they are going to take care of that and get him to what we’ve been used to,” Berger said. “Everything is fluid. It kind of falls on both [center and quarterback] the center sticks to the book a little bit and the quarterback has the freedom to change stuff up.”

Will Bradford have enough knowledge of the offense to change stuff up? It could be a tall task.

Another wrinkle to handling pressure is the ability to quickly go through progressions – understanding where each option is going to be on a play, especially if things break down in the pocket.

In 21 throws against Kansas City, there wasn’t a single completion where Palmer stood in the pocket and looked to multiple options before throwing. But after a few weeks under center with the Raiders, he was effective in finding his second or third receiver. On this play, the tight end is clearly his third option.

Palmer is not the only quarterback to have started on short notice – Vikings fans will remember Josh Freeman’s 23-7 loss to the Giants in 2013 – and not all of them are failures, but it is a big ask. If the Vikings are confident they can have Adrian Peterson carry the bulk of the load, it seems possible Bradford could do enough “game managing” to get through one week. They will have to ask themselves if they can get more out of a game-managing Bradford or Hill playing with a full playbook.

It’s a tough call.

The post Is starting Week 1 too much to ask of Sam Bradford? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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