Question Of The Week

The Shift from Peterson to Bridgewater (Or Not)

Teddy Bridgewater’s only played in 17 total games with Adrian Peterson, and yet, the Minnesota Vikings find themselves in a bind. Peterson’s 1,485 rushing yards led the league last year and propelled the Vikings to an NFC North title and playoff berth; the team’s first since 2009. But it could be argued that Peterson’s success affected Bridgewater, limiting the young quarterback to the role of ‘dink-and-dunk’ game manager.

This wouldn’t be an issue if Peterson weren’t on the wrong side of 30. A younger running back, like Jerick McKinnon, could learn to work with Bridgewater, adapt to the quarterback’s preferred shotgun formation, and become a liable threat in the passing game. But Peterson is Peterson, and asking an old dog to learn new tricks will only come with challenges. And challenges take time, time the Vikings can’t afford to waste with their Super Bowl quickly opening.

To burst through that window, Minnesota needs to focus on the future. Right now, the future is Bridgewater and his ability to carry the Vikings’ offense. Peterson himself admitted just yesterday that this is the third-year quarterback’s team to lead:

[quote_box_center]“For this third year we are expecting big things from him,” Peterson said. “I don’t think it’s pressure toward him, but he understands it now even more going into this next year. He’s the leader of this team when it comes to the offensive side of the ball. He just knows that and takes control.”[/quote_box_center]

All signs indicate a shift from Peterson to Bridgewater: the addition of Laquon Treadwell; the hiring of Pat Shurmur; reports of Bridgewater’s improved deep ball; Peterson’s own admission that he must improve as a pass-catcher and shotgun runner.

But if it ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it, right? That very well may be the case in 2016, especially with Norv Turner at the helm of the offense. Peterson shows no signs of slowing down and remains a focal point of the organization. With one lucrative year remaining on his contract, there’s no reason for Turner not to run Peterson into the ground.

I’ve pitched the ball; it’s up to Vikings Territory staff — and a special guest — to answer the question:

How many rushing yards will Peterson have in 2016?

Brett: 1,485 yards

Does that number look familiar? It should – it’s the same number of yards Adrian Peterson rushed for in 2015. While it’s unlikely Peterson rushes for exactly the same number of yards in 2016, using that number specifically is more about trying to use this opportunity to make a point (and a slight dig at offensive coordinator Norv Turner).

I’m not confident that Turner will make any drastic changes to the Vikings offensive scheme. Instead of making alterations that would better suit his entire offensive personnel, I think it’s likely we see a scheme that, once again, focuses on a power running game centered around Peterson.

Eventually, the Vikings will begin to shift this offense away from Peterson, integrating McKinnon more and relying on Bridgewater’s arm. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening until either the wheels fall off of Peterson or Turner is no longer calling the shots.

Sam: 1,463 yards

I’m quite wary of the post-30 running back drop-off, but with Peterson, I have to give him the benefit of the doubt until he proves he can’t do it.

While I expect Teddy to take a step forward in year three, I worry it won’t be as large as many are expecting, and wouldn’t at all be surprised if this remains a run-first offense. And that’s not a bad thing—the fact that most the league has shifted to air-it-out mode has no bearing on what the Vikings offense can or should do. Peterson remains a formidable offensive weapon until we see tangible evidence that proves otherwise.

If Bridgewater improves but doesn’t vault into the top echelon of quarterbacks (probably a safe bet) and the team has much improved offensive line play (ditto), there will be plenty of opportunities for Peterson. I envision a version of the Lynch/Wilson-era Seahawks offense for the 2016 Vikings, and it’s not a bad thought.

Adam Patrick: 1,300 yards

In a dream scenario, Peterson’s rushing yards and carries would go down, while his catches — and Jerick McKinnon’s touches — would increase. But this is Adrian Peterson we’re talking about.

He can talk all he wants how he would like to be a better all around player, but that’s hard to believe of a player who is heading into the tail end of his career. In all likelihood, Peterson will fail to adjust to any new offensive strategies the Vikings try and implement and Minnesota will just have to go back to shift its methods back to make up for Peterson’s inabilities in other areas.

Carl: 1,000 yards

In the Vikings’ five losses last season, Adrian Peterson averaged only 14 carries per game. However, in the Vikings’ 11 wins, Peterson averaged 23.3 attempt per game en route to capturing his third rushing title with 1,485 yards for the season.

The old school philosophy of feeding Adrian the ball and letting the defense control the game proved successful enough last season that the Vikings may not look to implement major changes. Developing a balanced passing attack will be a work in progress and Peterson should once again be a focal point in the offense.

Yes, his work load will begin to diminish slightly as Teddy Bridgewater matures and Jerick McKinnon continues to emerge as a running back and pass catcher. My guess is 17 carries per game and four yards per pop equals another 1,000 yard season for ‘All Day.’

Austin: 1,200 yards

Peterson will get his touches — he always does. When you’re the (current) face of the franchise, you’re treated like the centerpiece. An influx of new thinking from Shurmur, combined with the improved play of a revamped line and Bridgewater’s progression, will limit those touches, though. Still, Peterson is a 4.5-yard-per-carry career rusher and has a knack for turning negative plays into positive gains. Despite being lower, 1,200 yards isn’t a terrible total for Peterson — he hit that in 2013 in what was an excellent, under-the-radar season by his standards. It’s time for Peterson to take a back seat to Bridgewater, and 2016 is the year it happens.

This week’s special guest is Drew Mahowald, an avid Vikings fan and regular contributor at the NFC North Barroom. You can follow him on Twitter for all things Vikings, Timberwolves, and collegiate golf.

Drew: 1,400 yards

Again and again, I’ve defended Peterson having a large role in this offense, an opinion that’s becoming the minority among fans. The greatest rusher in the NFL tallied 1,485 yards a season ago despite a subpar offensive line and an offensive coordinator as predictable as Eddie Lacy avoiding the salad bar.

A new-and-improved offensive line should help Peterson increase his yards per carry average from the 4.5 mark he managed in 2015. There will be no more Brandon Fusco blocking air at left guard, and no more T.J. Clemmings getting shoved backward on every snap at right tackle. Additionally, the hope is that Norv Turner, along with tight ends — but not really tight ends — coach Pat Shurmur bring a more balanced offense to the table in 2016. More balance plus the addition of Laquon Treadwell will force defenses to play for the pass just as much as the run, opening up more running lanes for Peterson.

The reigning rushing champion will likely see a decrease in carries this season, but he’ll also run more efficiently with an improved supporting cast taking some of the pressure off. This is why I think Peterson repeats as rushing champion and eclipses the 1,400-yard mark in 2016.

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Austin Belisle

Austin Belisle is the West Coast's biggest Vikings fan, a football diehard cheering on the purple and yellow from sunny California. After graduating from San Jose State University in 2014, he began working full-time in corporate marketing and blogging on various sports websites. Austin's passion for the Vikings led him to Vikings Territory, where he hopes to share his lifelong enthusiasm for the team with readers on a daily basis. You can follow him on Twitter @austincbelisle

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  1. I’m guessing in the 1300-1400 yard range. I think Teddy will have more passing yards this year than last, blocking will be improved, McKinnon may get more touches and yards than last year as well, but I expect Peterson will be explosive and make the most of a slight decrease in rushing opportunities.

  2. I’m going to guess somewhere in the 1600 yard range for many of the reasons that Drew outlined.The passing game doesn’t need to take a giant leap,it just needs to improve enough to make defences respect it more and the playing calling has to lose it’s predictability.Adrian ran for over 2000 yds in2012 with Ponder at QB,and Charlie Johnson at LG.This line should be better than 2012,as should the QB play.

    1. 2012 was a long time ago from a football perspective. Peterson is not close to being that player anymore. He kind of lumbers when he runs to the outside now. Put on some game tape from 2012, and then watch some game tape from 2015. I think that even Peterson is starting to understand that the end is coming fast.

      1. I still think if he gets beat up less on the line he may still be able to bust through and improve his yards per carry. But this is largely up to that “improved” o line.

  3. I think the over/under on AP this year is somewhere between 1150 and 1250 yards. I think the team is primed to make ball distribution a key strategic advantage, and if anything this should help AP’s rate production stats even if it ultimately takes touches away from him. I think Teddy has shown that he’s great at distributing the ball, you gotta feed McKinnon some, but the big thing is you have WR/TE corps that could produce zero guys with 65+ catches but maybe 5 guys with more than 40 catches (Ruddy, Treadwell, Diggs, Wright, Johnson, McKinnon, Patterson, AP, and maybe even Pruitt and Morgan are all candidates).

    The funny thing about reduced touches but improved rate stats for AP is that he could look more average (like he did last year), end the year with 1100 yards but be a critical piece of the offense because you have to account for him, or he could end up with 1300-1500 yards on fewer touches because of fewer runs for no gains and a handful more long runs. Breaking 3-4 more 50+ yard runs (which he seemed to not have too many last year, according to my eye test) is the difference between 1100 yards and 1300+ yards, all while allowing Teddy to throw more.

  4. How much should the offense favor AP vs BW aside, I’m confused over the way this issue is so often put:

    ” A younger running back, like Jerick McKinnon, could learn to work with Bridgewater, adapt to the quarterback’s preferred shotgun formation, and become a liable threat in the passing game. But Peterson is Peterson, and asking an old dog to learn new tricks will only come with challenges.”

    Is it a given that BW will always and forever be significantly better in shotgun than under center? It doesn’t seem that unlikely that 23 year old BW could become better operating out of the formations that AP is better suited for IMO. Are we even sure he’s that bad under center? Are we sure him being better in shotgun wasn’t just it allowed to quickly see which of his o-lineman were going to fail him that play easier, but with a better o-line that won’t be as big of an issue?

    1. Thank you! Bridgewater is a smart, hard-working guy, so he should be able to learn how to work from under center, not to mention that the opportunity for play action is greater from under center than in the shotgun.

    2. I agree, there is not one single top QB that can’t operate from under center. Always in the shotgun limits the offense, although it can also spread out the defense, but play action plays cause a split second of indecision on the d so therefore keeps them off balance. Teddy needs to learn to play from under center too.

  5. I think I am inclined to agree with Drew. Improved oline and better options in the passing game open up more opportunities for AD. His carries may actually drop a bit as they take advantage of some of those passing opportunities or McKinnon. But I believe his YPC will increase over last year giving him close to as many yards as last year with fewer carries.

    That said, I still wouldn’t be surprised if he went crazy and got a third title. He still is almost unstoppable when he gets into the defense’s backfield. That will be up to our oline. We shall see.

  6. 2000 yards. Teddy will throw deep and defenses won’t be able to keep 8 or 9 in the box.

  7. My observations tell me with a better offensive line and Teddy’s maturation ADs ypc go up and he rushes for more yards. 1485 last year is often talked about negatively and every writer wants to be the first call his decline, but he’s had two years off and “he like nobody else”.
    If is total yards goes down that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. Lotsa variables like, we’re up a lot in games and our top 5 D keeps putting us in good field position, we could be running a lot, etc…

  8. 320 rushes x 4.8 yards per carry = 1,536 yards on the season. This is assuming that the line play and passing game are improved – not perfect, but improved (and likely) – and the play calling less predictable (Please, sweet Jesus, please!).

    And I don’t think the dinking and dunking had nearly as much to do with Peterson as it did with having a mediocre LT, a playing-out-of-position LG and a rookie RT.

    1. Right on ck. More play action plays on 1st down, shorter line to gain average on second down. I think Adrian will have fewer carries but more yards if the play calls on 1st down are less predictable and the o line steps up. I have been critical of Teddy, but the fact remains that he was the most pressured and most often hit qb last year.. Perhaps this year he will have the time to go through his reads more often before he has to run for his life. The key is consistent and decent play by the o line.
      P.S. I think that their d may be very studly this year!!

  9. Teddy’s game will have to continue to evolve and improve if the Vikings are going to become a solid playoff team.