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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Bradford Plan: 3 things Vikings can do to make life easier for Sam Bradford

By Derek Wetmore

Slant Instructions - Mike Martz


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The Vikings will likely play Sam Bradford on Sunday, if the general feeling around the Minnesota media is correct. If he won’t then, he will soon.

Whether or not he should play is divorced from the question about the best way to get him ready for the game. The challenges for a quarterback learning an offense and implementing it effectively partway through the season are not trivial. It can be one of the most difficult asks in sports, and presuming that they can play quickly is dangerous.

Sage Rosenfels, a former thirteen-year veteran in the NFL, occasional starter and a former Minnesota Vikings quarterback, detailed the magnitude of the problem:

“This situation is anything but a match made in heaven. Bradford has never been confused with a HOF quarterback, the offense is brand new, and he’s had zero career overlap with Norv Turner. Every coordinator has different beliefs and styles and Norv definitely has his own, as does Sean Payton, Gary Kubiak, Kyle Shanahan, and Adam Gase.”

Rosenfels details a number of issues that the quarterback has to overcome. Passers typically have thousands of hours of practice and meetings with their offensive coordinator so they have a good feel for the go-to play in every situation. Knowing the coordinator’s—and therefore team’s—tendencies for every situation is one of the most important things a quarterback can do, so they know what to execute and how.

Beyond that, Rosenfels brings up the now-common language metaphor but references more than just the knowledge of the play names. Quarterbacks and coordinators must agree on a language for defenses, coverages and techniques. They must have common terminology with the offensive line, running backs and tight ends to call protections. Receivers have to understand what he’s saying when he kills the play and calls a new one at the line of scrimmage, while stadium music is blaring.

He also brings up the quarterback-center exchange, which is admittedly not one we talk about too often. A relatively simple process from the perspective of the third-party observer, it can evidently cause quite a bit of anxiety.

Chemistry is critical as well, and knowing how each player runs their routes—where they’ll be, what their catch radius is, what landmarks they settle by and so on is important. Academically knowing that “open” for one receiver is different than it is for another is one thing, but being able to apply that knowledge, specific to each receiver, with precision is another world entirely.

And there’s the fact that the playbook is more immensely complicated than fans give it credit for. Consider what one route in a play looks like depending on the coverage:

That doesn’t include option routes, either. Option routes, also called sight adjustments, were best detailed by Doug Farrar in a Yahoo! News article in 2012. In it, he describes the difficulties in learning the Patriots system and starts by starts by demonstrating “1 Out Slot ZAC,” which I’ve rediagrammed below:

Doug Farrar - Patriots Play

He describes it thusly:

In this play, the fullback (lined up wide left) runs a 14-yard in, though he should look for an outside release if anyone’s cheating up expecting something quick. The halfback reads blitz, hits a run sneak through the A-gap if he’s free, and digs sharply to the right. The “X” or iso receiver does a sight adjustment, reads the coverage, and could either come back outside, or loop to the seam, depending again on the coverage. The “Z” receiver motions from right slot, and heads 6 yards upfield, into a four-way option. The “Y” receiver could turn a “chute” route, or he might hook inside.”

He also quotes a receivers coach from a different style of offense, Kippy Brown of the Seattle Seahawks. He told Doug, “There are very few routes that are what we call ‘run-it’ routes — those are routes that stay on, no matter what. Usually, you have a conversion of some kind … in our offense, nearly every route has a conversion. If they do this, you do that.”

Doug Farrar continues, “Not only does the quarterback have to read the defense; he also has to know that his receivers are reading the defense the same way he is … and that they’re adjusting accordingly.”

That’s one reason why the route trees we typically see are not necessarily accurate. We can look at Martz’ playbook once more for the difference. On the left side of the below image, you’ll see a typical route tree for a slot receiver. On the right, you’ll see what that tree looks like after an OC marks it up with sight adjustments.

Mike Martz Route Trees

Those are all route adjustments he makes in the playbook for the different routes, and that’s only for the “base” receiver routes, and do not include “juke,” “shake,” “pidgeon,” “twirl,” “china,” “squirrel” and more. Nevermind the fact that the slot receivers and tight ends have different routes altogether.

If two receivers have only option route each based on the coverage, that’s four different plays in the same playcall. Not only that, some routes aren’t “option routes,” but require the receiver to sit in different spots throughout a zone.

All of that goes out the window when the defense blitzes, because one receiver becomes the “hot route” and runs a different shorter route that the quarterback must read. Sometimes, those hot routes have adjustments for zone blitzes, meaning they also change in response to coverage and extra pass rushers.

It’s a great piece, well worth reading in total, but he and Rosenfels demonstrate the point well. If the Vikings choose to go with Shaun Hill, there are reasons for it.


Nevertheless, Sam Bradford will eventually start for the Vikings and it behooves them to adjust their system to make it simple but effective for the quarterback they gave up so much to get.

Those option routes are a big part of Norv Turner’s system and have been for years, but they do not have to be. Consider what the San Francisco 49ers did with Alex Smith when Jim Harbaugh took over.

Like Bradford, Smith was an intelligent first-overall pick who was beset by system change after system change (including one year in Norv Turner’s system). The 49ers decided to remedy this by running probably the simplest passing system in the NFL.

They eliminated sight adjustments, which meant not having an answer for every single coverage or too many blitzes, but made it simpler for the quarterbacks and receivers simply to function. That might be for the better, as some sight adjustments make things worse, not better, or the offense, as Chris Brown explains below:

In place of option routes, the 49ers kept an extra player in pass protection and made sure there was an outlet on every play—essentially giving the quarterback a hot route regardless of whether or not there was a blitz.

That year, Smith had the lowest interception rate in the league, while maintaining his touchdown rate. His completion rate rose, and his adjusted yards per attempt rose by a full yard. The downside, of course, is that Smith led the league in sacks, and was downed on nine percent of his pass dropbacks.

If the Vikings are fine with the tradeoff—increasing pressure and sack rate for an easier-to-understand system—then that’s one thing they can do. As the season goes on, they can implement more and more option routes in their routine game planning and practices for each opponent.

They don’t have to eliminate sight adjustments entirely, but substantially trimming them could reduce the kind of confusion that causes interceptions.

This will likely encourage defenses to install more complex schemes to confuse the quarterback more, all without the ability of the offense to respond to many of the weaknesses in complicated tactical setups.

So, why not force the defense to simplify?

HUNH is more than just a sound you make when you try but fail to move the couch. It stands for Hurry-Up, No-Huddle, and it’s something that ebbs and flows in popularity in the NFL, beginning with the Cincinnati Bengals’ offenses in the mid-1980s and even more famously by the Jim Kelly Buffalo Bills.

With Chip Kelly coming to the NFL, Oregon’s version of the No Huddle—faster than anything the Bills or Bengals did and only rivaled by the Air Raid systems at Texas Tech and Baylor—came into sharp focus once more. He didn’t reinvent it, and the Patriots famously used it to run 89 offensive plays against the Denver Broncos in early October of 2012 before Chip Kelly arrived in the NFL, but it did allow the NFL to explore their responses to the tactic.

Generally speaking, defenses revert to their base plays and schemes and won’t be able to throw a variety of looks at the opposing offense. It reduces the incidences of trap coverages, exotic blitzes and freelancing defenders.

It also, paradoxically, gives the offense more time to survey the defense, diagnose the coverage and respond appropriately. No huddle offenses don’t have to be fast, and the Eagles ran anywhere between the standard 58 plays against Seattle in 2014 to a blazing 105 plays against Tennessee in the same season.

The key is the ability to control tempo, not simply run faster. If the offense has caught the defense in a poor personnel package—perhaps the backups are in along the defensive line, or the team is in a base defense when it should be in nickel—they can run plays at a blazing pace to prevent substitutions and create defensive confusion.

But if the offense and the defense are evenly matched from a personnel standpoint, it makes sense to threaten to snap the ball at any time while giving the quarterback extra time to look over the defense. The nice thing about a no-huddle offense is that there should be absolutely no clock pressure.

The Dallas defense wreaked havoc on the Patriots’ ability to set protections and prevent pressure on the quarterback in an early 2011 matchup, with a shifting defense and all eleven players standing up as threats to drop into coverage or rush, Tom Brady was consistently wrong about assigning protections in the game. After the Patriots switched to their no-huddle look, Dallas stopped showing amoeba looks and playing a bog-standard defense—probably causing physical pain to the creative Rob Ryan, coordinating that defense at the time.

The No Huddle is not as effective as it once was in forcing defenses to simplify, and the playcallers on the defense, like Anthony Barr with Minnesota, are getting better about calling plays that are adaptable to the variety that offenses show, employing pattern-match coverages to pair with a variety of blitz packages.

Still, it’s better than throwing Bradford into the fire with no advantages at all.

The Vikings will likely not be able to do something like that throughout the course of a game, but even doing it for half of their drives should allow Bradford the reps he needs to learn the base of the offense, develop chemistry with his receivers and understand the protection terminology without exposing the Vikings to too much risk.

There aren’t many plays in most No Huddle packages, which is a big weakness for using it throughout the season (and therefore neuters the two-minute offense), but that’s a strength for the Vikings in this case, who should focus more on executing a small number of plays well with Bradford instead of memorizing a large number of plays and adjustments without hammering down the details.

The plays they install should also provide answers based on defensive alignment. That means instead of option routes to adjust to defenses on the fly, making sure there are route packages on either side of the offense that contain answers to whatever coverage Bradford sees.

For example, they could condense one playcall into having a zone beater to one side and a man beater to the other side, with one option route to the zone side to deal with the multiple types of coverages.

For example, they could run double-slants to one side and a flat-seven combination to the other side to provide answers to most coverages that they’ll see.


This should beat most coverages. If they run a traditional Cover-2, the corner and flat routes should deal with them well. Against Cover-3, the “F” receiver can run a post-route. Against quarters coverage, the corner/flat combination should work well on its own. Against “man free” (with no safety in zone coverage because the defense is blitzing) and Cover-1, quick slants to the Z and X should work out, and failing that, the running back.

Sure, if the defense is Cover-1 Robber with an enterprising freelancer like Luke Kuechly (or Harrison Smith) underneath, it’s probably a dead play. But with limited time to install an offense, difficulty installing option routes and a playbook that likely has few audibles, it’s the best you probably can do.


The final piece of the puzzle might have to be to reduce pressure. Matthew Coller pointed out not too long ago that teams love to create pressure against new quarterbacks, especially those without the time to learn protections—a critical reason Carson Palmer flubbed in Oakland. In fact, quarterbacks on a new team, rookie or not, seem to struggle in big part because of this.

Carson Palmer’s worst years were his first in Cincinnati (as a rookie), his first year in Oakland and his first in Arizona. The worst year of Jay Cutler’s career was his first in Chicago. Matt Cassel’s had a lot of bad years, but his worst was his first year in Kansas City.

It’s not true for all quarterbacks at all times, but it’s certainly relevant, and the fact that sack rates for those quarterbacks seem to climb in those situations is at least weakly indicative of the fact that defenses design their responses to new quarterbacks by the presence of pressure.

Obviously, a simpler passing offense means fewer responses to blitzes, but there are other ways the Vikings can simplify things. The first is to continue doing what they did last week with Hill, which was to set him back in shotgun and run a large proportion of passes through a three-step drop passing game.

Turner typically likes longer developing plays where receivers break in their routes when the quarterback has hit the seventh step of his dropback, but it allows pressure to arrive. Shorter dropbacks means shorter passing routes, but the ball gets out quicker.

Bradford is definitely used to that from his time in Philadelphia.

The Vikings could also install more rollouts than they did with Hill. While Bradford is not the most athletic quarterback and seems to improvise with his feet poorly, he’s excellent throwing on the run on designed plays. It takes him away from pass rushers and simplifies his reads to a half-field.

Because rollout plays often have receivers run routes with a “level” concept—that is with one receiver running out to the sideline short and another running the same thing, but deeper and intermediate—Bradford may simply have to read only one defender. It’s a read he’s used to making from his time in Philadelphia. What’s great about this concept is that one can add a receiver running vertically for Bradford to target (which is then called “flood”).

That may be the easiest to read on the run, a great number of concepts that work for half the field can work in rollouts.

With some combination of the above elements—a trimmed down route tree, a no-huddle offense, three-step drops and rollouts—the Vikings may have enough to throw their newly acquired quarterback into the fire early and take advantage of some of the strengths he has over Hill.

The post Bradford Plan: 3 things Vikings can do to make life easier for Sam Bradford appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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