Saturday, February 6, 2016

kyle rudolph

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Bridgewater hitting his stride in year two

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

What makes a “good” quarterback? Is the idea of being “good” measured by the number of touchdowns a quarterback throws? Is it measured by his passing yards? His completion percentage? Ask any fan, analyst, or sports journalist who the league’s best quarterbacks are, and you’ll get similar answers. Year after year, it’s Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, and so on and so forth. The list remains relatively the same each year, with a select few alternating at the top of the rankings season-to-season. But how do we determine what qualifies them to be considered the NFL’s best?

For some, it’s film study and hours spent breaking down game tape. For others, it’s the statistics and the deeper analytics. And for a select few, it’s the blind faith in one’s quarterback, the unwavering opinion that he is, of course, a “good” quarterback. We can all agree that the tried-and-true quarterbacks deserve to operate in a class of their own. Some have won multiple Super Bowls, some throw for 4,000-plus yards each year, and some win double-digit games each season. It’s easy to see when a quarterback just “gets it;” he intimately understands an offensive scheme, from where to throw the football pre-snap to how to adjust protections at the line of scrimmage.

Fans of teams with young signal callers, like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, and our very own Minnesota Vikings, would tell you that their respective quarterbacks are the “best of the class.” At times, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr, and Teddy Bridgewater display some of the same characteristics that make players like Brady and Brees so consistently effective. But for the most part, they make the mistakes you’d expect from young, inexperienced players, like missing the simple throws, forcing passes into coverage, or taking unnecessary sacks. The growing pains aren’t unexpected, but definitely frustrating in today’s world of instant gratification. As football fans, we expect immediate success from quarterbacks, when honestly, that’s rarely the case.

Peterson's catch was made possible by McKinnon

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Adrian Peterson lines up eight yards behind Teddy Bridgewater, eyes up, feet planted, ready to explode into the wall of defensive linemen waiting for him. It’s a position he’s comfortable in, and one he’s been successful in his entire career. Of his 2,362 career rushing attempts, 98 percent (2,241) have come when the quarterback is under center. On those carries, he’s rushed for 11,143 yards — five yards per carry — and scored 94 of his 96 career rushing touchdowns.

That trend’s continued this year, his first full season back since missing nearly every game in 2014. Through 15 games in 2015, he’s rushed the ball 272 times with Bridgewater (and Shaun Hill) under center. Those carries have helped propel him to the top of the league’s rushing standings, with 1,362 of his 1,418 yards coming in such situations. It’s a formula that’s pushed the Vikings’ offense near the top of the rushing yardage standings, but one that’s proven frustrating at times.

Before his 104-yard performance against the New York Giants last Sunday, Peterson had failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark in the three previous games. The Vikings lost two of those contests by forcing the ball to Peterson on first and second down, putting Bridgewater in third-and-long situations far too often. That’s been the case in each of the Vikings’ five losses this season; rely too heavily on Peterson despite a failure to produce early, and the offense will flounder. Play-action passes are successful when a defense commits to stopping the run. If Peterson isn’t producing on early downs, linebackers and safeties won’t bite when Bridgewater fakes the handoff to his running back. Simply lined up behind Bridgewater, Peterson is a threat, but that threat can only become a reality if the defense isn’t completely honed in on No. 28.

Fortunately, offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s discovered a new weapon — one that can distract defenses from Peterson — in his loaded arsenal; second-year running back Jerick McKinnon.

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Vote for the player you think deserves the "Player of the Game" award for Week 14 at the Arizona Cardinals.

Teddy Bridgewater Week 14 Cardinals
Photo Courtesy of Vikings.com

The Thursday Night game threw us for a bit of a loop here at VT, as we’re creatures of habit and try to adhere to a schedule of weekly programming during the season. However, better late than never and we we refuse to miss a week where one of these Vikings players who worked so hard isn’t gifted the highly sought after Vikings Territory Player of the Game award.

There were a lot of new faces on the field Thursday night against the Cardinals. In fact, the Vikings started six rookies in Arizona – the most in Vikings history. They weren’t perfect, but the team showed a ton of fight and came just within reach of achieving a major upset against a Superbowl contender during prime time.

Though the Vikings didn’t come away with a win, there were quite a few impressive performances. Before we jump in to this week’s nominees, let’s recap our previous 13 awards this season.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

At 8-3, the Minnesota Vikings are the surprise team in the NFC and a legitimate threat to claim the NFC North division title. With the league’s second-best scoring defense and Mike Zimmer’s steady hand leading the ship, Minnesota has — at the very least — a 90 percent probability to reach the postseason.

When the Vikings lost to the San Francisco 49ers to open the season, a playoff berth appeared unlikely. The defense couldn’t stop the run, Adrian Peterson ran like a 30-year-old running back, and the offensive line looked lost without John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt. Mike Zimmer’s team lacked an identity early on, but they’ve slowly established themselves as one of the NFL’s most physical, technically sound teams on both sides of the ball.

As I’ve written these “What Went Right” pieces, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern. When the Vikings win, it’s because of the defense and the legs of Adrian Peterson. Specifically, the defense plays with discipline, filling run gaps correctly, tackling in space, and preventing big plays down the field. On offense, Minnesota wins when they unleash Peterson, who has at least 19 carries in every Vikings victory this season. Any less, and they’ve gone on to lose.

While the defense created turnovers against Atlanta in Week 12, it was Peterson who powered Minnesota to victory. This Sunday, when the Vikings host the Seattle Seahawks, he’ll need to do the same against an aggressive, stout run defense that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season.

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The playoffs start NOW for the Minnesota Fightin’ Vikings as the remaining schedule features zero easy games starting with Sunday as we welcome the Seattle “Bad Defense and Balling Offense” Seahawks into The Bank.

Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) makes his weekly pit stop to discuss how the Purple can prevail over the Blueish-Neon Green and make a push for the 2-seed. We also chat about Warren Moon’s thoughts on Teddy Bridgewater, how Mike Zimmer plans to corral Russel Wilson, Harrison Smith or Earl Thomas/Kam Chancellor, if the Vikings offense is turning into the 2012 Adrian Peterson Offense, and we predict NFL coaching changes just for the LOLs.

All that and other “Jarius Wright is no Markus Wheaton” nonsense on this edition of the Purple FTW! Podcast!

An Andy Carlson Joint.

Read all of Arif’s stuff at The Daily Norseman and Vikings Journal as well as listen to his podcast Norse Code.

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