When you look at that glossy 11-5 record from last year, you have to see the glaring hole in the Minnesota Vikings structure. In 2015, the Vikings were, to say the least, one of the worst passing offenses in the National Football League. They were at or near the bottom of every passing category. If it were not for their running game, as well as their defensive success, they would not have been in a lot of their football games. In order for Minnesota to take that next step, the Vikings must improve in five key aspects of their offense, and it starts with growth and overall strides from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
1. Consistency from Teddy
The main key for the Vikings to have a successful 2016 campaign starts and ends with the quarterback play. The growth of Teddy Bridgewater is by far the most important aspect for the next level to be taken. The Vikings’ passing game really struggled in 2015 and Bridgewater threw just 14 touchdowns. The sub-par performance of the offensive line, and the lack of weapons at wide receiver outside of Stefon Diggs were both aspects of the offense that didn’t help Bridgewater reach his maximum potential, but it goes further than that.
We need to see Bridgewater establish more consistency with his QB mechanics. He is known dropping his elbow, which causes his balls to sail high. In the offseason, he has spent time working to improve his mechanics, and from the look of the OTA’s, it is coming along nicely. Now, there were moments where he would exhibit an excellent throwing motion, in which his accuracy on all of his other throws were spot on, especially throws in the intermediate range, but too often he delivered balls that sailed high above the receiver.
With the addition of Laquon Treadwell, the improvement of Diggs, Corderelle Patterson, the health of Charles Johnson and Kyle Rudolph, and an improved offensive line, I firmly believe if Teddy Bridgewater can throw 25 touchdowns this season, the offense will become more balanced, leading to an improvement through the air. Teddy has continually shown flashes and with more pieces around him, it will be a huge year for him to show growth. The defense will keep the Vikings in games, but their offense has to make a big leap if they want to take the next step as a team.
2. Closing in the Red Zone
Let’s be blunt, the Vikings were putrid in the red zone last season. They had many issues in finishing drives, and settled for too many Blair Walsh field goals. They scored touchdowns in the red zone a sixth-worst 47.7% of the time. When the team reached the opposing 20-yard line, play calling had the tendency to favor running the ball frequently in early downs. This led the passing game to struggle in third-and-long situations. The Vikings must find a better offensive strategy for play calling in earlier downs. Finishing drives and improving their situational work will need to be areas of emphasis as the Vikings work to improve during training camp and the preseason.
3. Finding the offensive balance
The Vikings were a run heavy team during the 2015 season, which sometimes overwhelmed their offensive strategy. The Vikings had the fewest passing attempts (454), but ran the ball a fourth-most 474 times. Some of this is attributed to the emphasis on the running game, but part of it has to do with the poor protection, limited weapons in the passing game, and inconsistent play by Teddy Bridgewater. All of those areas were addressed in the offseason and the coaches have to find a happy medium in this aspect of the game.
4. Adrian in the Shotgun or more Jerick?
As I noted earlier, the Vikings must improve their offensive balance and that starts by using more shotgun looks. It’s worth noting how it can be difficult when your starting running back can’t be successful out of the ‘gun. This is where Jerick McKinnon comes into play this coming season. He is extremely talented out of the shotgun and his quick cuts/superior speed allow him to make plays. I think the offense will have a better balance of Jerick McKinnon and Adrian Peterson this year. McKinnon might be the future for the Vikings at running back and it is time to find a nice blend of Peterson and Jerick in the gameplan.
5. Offensive Line Play
The Vikings have spent plenty of money and energy trying to address the offensive line. They hired Tony Sparano to be the offensive line coach, possibly the biggest acquisition they made this past offseason. They brought in Alex Boone and Andre Smith, two former pro bowlers to strengthen the line. They have Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan coming back from injury.
Minnesota brings back two of the more underrated line players in Mike Harris and Joe Berger. They drafted Willie Beavers in the 4th round, a steal in this draft. With all these moves, the Vikings have created more competition as they work towards an improvement up front. The coaches realized they lost too many games up front and decided to pool 28% of their cap space (a league-high) to the offensive line. It’s an investment that could be the difference for a Vikings offense that needs to take the next step in 2016.