Bradford’s Desire For “Explosive Plays” Could Be A Pipe Dream


After the 16-13 loss to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford thought he knew why the Vikings struggled against the Lions’ defense.

“We’ve probably got to try and find a way to create some explosive plays,’’ Bradford said (per’s Chris Tomasson). “It’s hard when you’re only picking up five, six, seven (yards) at a time. There’re things that we can do to try and figure out how we can create some more explosive plays.’’

He’s not wrong. If your eye didn’t tell you the Vikings were trying to kill the Lions with a billion small cuts, Pro Football Focus charted the game and found Bradford threw beyond 10-yards just three times.

It was that lack of deep plays—or explosive plays of any kind—which led Bradford to a killer interception at the end of the game. Not going deep allowed Lions cornerback Darius Slay to “trap” cover Adam Thielen’s route. Slay was able to release his receiver for two reasons—first because he had safety help over the top and second because he knew Bradford wasn’t going deep.

Bradford told reporters after the game that this had been the first time Slay or the Vikings had run that coverage, but it’s hard to believe that since Slay said it was a focal point for the defense all week.

It’ll be easier to see on the coach’s tape this weekend, but it looks very much like instead of putting the Lions defense to sleep, Bradford did it to himself on that play.

Bradford isn’t wrong that the Vikings need bigger, more explosive plays. You can argue that they were limited a little on Thursday because Stefon Diggs was out, but they still had Kyle Rudolph and since pat Shurmur took over as offensive coordinator, they have rarely tried to use Diggs or anyone deep anyway.

The offense has been limited by what Shurmur has asked them to do, or more critically, not to do.

So the solution is simple, right? When your receivers are averaging less than 10 yards a reception across the board and your quarterback is averaging less than five, you just open up the playbook and go deep, right?

Well, it’s not that simple for this offense.

The problem, as it has been all season, comes down to the offensive line.

You cannot go deep if the line isn’t allowing your receivers time to gain separation and giving your quarterback time to throw.

If you want proof, just go back and look at Norv Turner’s version of the Vikings offense.

While the Vikings took a few more deep shots per game, Turner constantly put Bradford in the position of scrambling for his life, lest he gets destroyed by the pass rush.

There’s no fixing the offensive line, though, no magic genie who will create competent and healthy offensive linemen out of thin air.

This is why Shurmur is in charge of the offense in the first place, as Turner never adapted the play-calling to account for a bad offensive line which is not likely to improve anytime soon.

It’s not wrong to point out that perhaps Shurmur has gone too far the other way, and should call more shots downfield.  Even without Diggs, he could use Rudolph as a vertical threat.

This would help out with the short throws he has to call, by making sure the defense remains honest, can’t “trap” plays the way Slay did while also forcing the defense backward and opening up the short routes for some added value yards.

Too often the Lions were tackling the Vikings receivers as soon as the player caught the ball. They could stay short because they were never getting beat over the top. Going deep—successful or not—on a more regular basis, will force the defense to stay deeper and not hug the receiver out of his break.

Again, though, there is a limit to what this offense can do vertically, specifically against stout pass rushes. None of their deep passes will even leave Bradford’s hands if he is sacked repeatedly and with this offensive line that is a real threat.

So sure, Bradford is right. They need more explosive plays and deeper throws.

On the other hand, they don’t have the personnel to execute that on a consistent basis. The offensive line has been the Achilles ’ heel for this team from Week 1, and it will be the one thing which keeps this team from a playoff spot, much less a run at the Super Bowl.


About Andrew Garda


Andrew Garda is a freelance writer primarily covering NFL football, with frequent side trips to everything else. A member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he is a contributing writer for Sports on Earth and Pro Football Weekly. He also covers fantasy for Garda is the host of the At the Whistle podcast and has been credentialed for many NFL drafts, Senior Bowls, pro days and various NFL events.