A thunderous clap echoes throughout U.S. Bank Stadium. A crowd of more than 66,000 sends a deafening cheer onto the field. And in the huddle, Sam Bradford is preparing to take his first snap as quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings.
Louder than the fans and more ferocious than the Green Bay Packers, doubt casts an ominous shadow over Bradford’s soon-to-begin tenure with the Vikings. General manager Rick Spielman paid a fortune to acquire Bradford, giving up a 2017 first and 2018 fourth round pick for the seven-year veteran. In doing so, he banked his team’s future on a quarterback riddled with past injuries and surrounded by question marks.
The first pick of the 2010 NFL Draft had yet to live up to given expectations, and nothing indicated he’d ever get there. He’s what I originally called a spare tire — a short-term fix for the long-term problem of Teddy Bridgewater’s devastating knee injury.
No one expected Bradford, of all quarterbacks, to succeed under such circumstances. More than the pressure of opening U.S. Bank Stadium or mastering Norv Turner’s playbook, Bradford carried the weight of replacing Minnesota’s most beloved sports figure. Not only was he expected to win now, Bradford needed to do so in reassuring fashion.
That hyper-competitive attitude carried over to Sunday night, when Bradford took the field for the first time as a member of the Vikings. Under the brightest lights and in front of the league’s loudest crowd, Bradford didn’t succumb to the pressure; he shined on the biggest stage of his life, leading a team with Super Bowl aspirations to a convincing Week 2 win over the Packers.
Since arriving in Minnesota on September 3, Bradford’s practically lived at Winter Park. He and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner have been inseparable, spending extra time before and after practice discussing routes, concepts, and formations. According to USA Today’s Tom Pelissero, Bradford calls and texts Turner regularly, using every spare moment to prepare himself for the task at hand.
“He’s spent the extra time. You can tell he’s constantly looking at it even when he’s not here,” Turner said. “And you listen to him call the plays — you’d think he’d been here forever.”
Before Sunday’s game, Bradford and the quarterbacks arrived at team facilities by 7 am, studying everything from Green Bay’s third down defense to Minnesota’s red zone game plan. Turner acknowledged, per Pelissero, that Bradford is “a really smart guy” and “caught on fast” in Norv’s complicated Air Coryell system.
His acumen, and Minnesota’s need for a spark at quarterback, made Bradford the obvious choice to start against the Packers. He did, completing 22 of 31 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. Even with the lofty expectations, Bradford’s performance was a surprisingly successful change for a team that failed to score an offensive touchdown in Week 1.
He posted a 121.2 quarterback rating and went 8-13 for 179 yards on passes thrown 10-plus yards downfield, all while facing pressure on 48.6 percent of his dropbacks. Pressure, on the field and off, didn’t seem to phase Bradford last week.
A combination of things led to Bradford’s successes on Sunday, but none more so than Turner’s game plan. While the Vikings love running the ball, and did so more than almost any team in 2015, Sunday’s game saw Bradford throw the ball 36 times. And though Minnesota struggled on the ground, it was clear Turner wanted his new quarterback to attack Green Bay’s secondary early and often.
Surprisingly, Turner had tried a few of the same concepts against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1. Then-starter Shaun Hill did just enough in Minnesota’s victory, but missed opportunities that Bradford seized on Sunday. One in particular stands out; a route concept suited to Bradford’s strength’s as Minnesota’s signal caller.
The ‘Scissors’ route combination is an excellent zone beater, and in Minnesota’s case, the perfect call against Cover-3. In 2×2 sets, either with two wide receivers or a receiver and a tight end, ‘Scissors’ attacks the deep third of a defense. The inside receiver runs a corner route, while the outside receiver runs a post route. This criss-crossing affects the eyes of defensive backs and creates confusion when “handing off” from zone to zone.
If the cornerback turns and runs inside, the quarterback throws the ball to the corner. If he stays home, the post route should come open, giving the quarterback an easy completion in front of the free safety. Meanwhile, the running back releases to the flat, putting pressure on the underneath defender to rally up or sit back and allow the short completion. He serves as an outlet for the quarterback if none of the deep routes come open.
Last week, Arif Hasan highlighted the Vikings’ attempt to use this concept against the Titans. He noted Stefon Diggs ran a perfect route, attacking the deep safety and flipping the hips of the cornerback to that side of the field. In result, Kyle Rudolph came open on the corner route, but Hill missed the read. Had Hill thrown the ball to Rudolph, the tight end may have had an easy jaunt into the end zone.
Scissors requires precise timing from the quarterback and receivers. When the quarterback hits the top of his drop, those running the post and corner routes should be ready to break down and make their appropriate cuts. When the quarterback finally releases the ball, he should be doing so as the receivers turn their heads back to the line of scrimmage.
This timing also requires quick decision-making from the quarterback, who must read the coverage and commit to a throw in a split-second. Bradford, for all of his known deficiencies, excels in this area of playing quarterback. The Scouting Academy had this to say about Bradford before the 2016 regular season:[quote_center]”A solid veteran starting QB who is best working from the pocket in a timing-based offense that relies on good decision making and utilizes his arm strength.”[/quote_center]
In theory, Scissors should be one of Bradford’s favorite passing concepts, and after the game, he praised Turner’s system. “I like a lot of the concepts we run,” he said. “I think it’s a great mix of both drop-back, play-action, things that I really enjoy.”
Bradford must have enjoyed Scissors on Sunday, because it worked like a charm against the Packers.
Stepping through a play, one frame and two different angles at a time.
- 2nd and 14 at MIN 42
- (14:21 – 2nd) (Shotgun) S.Bradford pass deep left to K.Rudolph pushed ob at GB 39 for 19 yards (L.Gunter)
The Vikings came out in a 2×2 set with Adrian Peterson offset left of Bradford in the shotgun. The Packers had four cornerbacks on the field, with Micah Hyde playing the role of a hybrid strong safety (deep left). They appeared to be in a Cover-2 look, but transitioned to a Cover-3 “Buzz” at the snap.
Cheesehead TV explained Dom Capers’ “Buzz” last year, highlighting what makes it effective in confusing opposing quarterbacks. “It’s a great disguise…it looks like a two-deep safety coverage to a quarterback since both safeties are back,” Robert Olson wrote. “Post-snap, a quarterback sees a totally different look since one safety rotates to the deep middle third while the other safety buzzes down to a hook zone.”
Micah Hyde started a little closer to the line than a traditional safety, but didn’t reveal his coverage until Bradford’s call for the snap.
At the snap, both defensive ends dropped into coverage, with Datone Jones carrying Rudolph down the field. He appeared to “pass” Rudolph to the next defender, likely into one of three deep zones. Jones, along with three other Packers, sat underneath in a Hook-to-Curl zone.
Hyde, meanwhile, “buzzed” to Diggs and Rudolph. Bradford never looked to the right side of the field, indicating a pass play designed to attack a specific side of the defense. That play revealed itself as Scissors.
The corner to the left vacated the flat and ran to the deep third, shadowing Diggs on the receiver’s vertical stem down the field. At about 12 yards, Diggs planted with his outside foot and cut to the post. Here’s where things went wrong for the Packers.
Instead of settling down in his deep third — where he would’ve been in position to contest the corner route — the cornerback trailed Diggs inside. His reaction to Diggs cleared space for Rudolph on the corner route, giving Bradford a window to deliver the football. Hyde found himself in a decent position — able to cover the corner and attack the flat — but Bradford’s accuracy made the throw possible.
Of note — it’s a positive that Bradford allowed the play to develop, rather than immediately throwing the football to Peterson in the flat. It shows Bradford understands how Turner wants to attack a defense and where the football needs to go against certain coverages.
Here, a look at Bradford’s over-the-top delivery and the touch he shows to place the football between Hyde and the recovering defender. It helps that Hyde is a little on the smaller side, as he comes within feet of breaking up the pass. A little taller, and he may have gotten a hand on the ball.
This is a throw most young quarterbacks won’t make, as they’re scared to challenge the underneath defender. Bradford doesn’t show any hesitation, making a decisive decision to exploit Hyde.
Bradford showed beautiful touch on the throw, hitting Rudolph for the 19-yard gain down the sideline.
The breakdown above was one throw from a night of spectacular play from Bradford. But in one snap, Bradford revealed just how far he’s come in 15 days since joining the Vikings. From the patience in allowing the routes to develop to understanding Green Bay’s coverage disguises, Bradford displayed the confidence of a quarterback who’d been in Minnesota for months.
It’s not time to overreact and proclaim Bradford the next great Vikings quarterback. His performance on Sunday was astounding given the atmosphere and situation, but it was one game. Defenses will surely adjust, and if the Vikings don’t improve the play of their offensive line, Bradford may not make it through the year — he was sacked four times against Green Bay.
Still, Bradford inspired hope in a fan base that could’ve given up on the season when Bridgewater went down. He gave life to a Vikings passing game that struggled with Shaun Hill and reignited talks of Minnesota making a Super Bowl run.
For every proverbial dollar Spielman spent to acquire Bradford, the quarterback matched that with a dime of his own on Sunday, per Anthony Barr.[quote_center]“He was dropping dimes. I don’t know where he got all those dimes from, but he found them.” [/quote_center]