What percentage of Sam Bradford’s passes would you guess have been thrown at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage?
“Has to be 66?” one friend wrote in a text.
“50?” another said.
Norv Turner, a play caller who liked running the ball to set up the deep play-action pass, resigned as Vikings offensive coordinator this week. Though by the end of Turner’s time in Minnesota, a certain perception of him didn’t really match the reality.
There are certainly things head coach Mike Zimmer and interim coordinator Pat Shurmur will do differently, which may include giving Bradford more freedom at the line to adjust calls. Zimmer has spoken about how he’d like to do things differently in protections. Will they further pivot to a short, horizontal passing game as Shurmur learned under Andy Reid’s West Coast offense?
Route concepts can change, but looking back at Bradford’s passing tendencies in six games under Turner, it’s not like he was being asked to stand back and pat the ball like Ben Roethlisberger. Only 29 percent of Bradford’s passes have traveled at least 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, which is a sign of bad protection when accounting for all the hits he’s taken and that the Vikings’ deep play-action drops were already a thing of the past. Bradford has already been one of the NFL’s short-pass kings this season under Turner.
So, how much shorter can the passes get? Bradford’s average depth per throw is 7.5 yards, which is tied with Kansas City’s Alex Smith (coached by Reid) and ranks 30th in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
Thumb through Bradford’s passing chart below, which is searchable by week and this season. You’ll see Bradford succeeded most downfield in his lone (half) game with Adrian Peterson in Week 2 against the Packers. The following week, Bradford didn’t attempt a pass farther than 20 yards.
One of Bradford’s recent problems has been the seldom deep shots aren’t connecting. Bradford noted the Eagles and Bears running more two-deep safety looks, which is taking away his quick go-route strikes that worked in wins against the Giants and Texans.
And the Vikings haven’t been able to hold up consistently enough against a four-man rush. One of the five Bears sacks on Bradford was due to coverage, but four each came after a different Vikings offensive lineman was beat. Two were bested on the third-and-goal sack before halftime, when center Joe Berger and right tackle T.J. Clemmings whiffed at the Bears’ 3-yard line.
Turner said he felt his resignation could ultimately be a good thing for the Vikings. The first order of business should be ensuring Bradford is able to throw, then we’ll get to where he’s throwing.