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How much does the Vikings’ passing game have to improve to be Super Bowl contenders?

Dec 18, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (8) throws during the second quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings have spent a lot of money and poured the majority of their draft picks into improving on offense.

From signing two tackles to drafting a running back, two receivers and a tight end to signing a pass-blocking back to adding a risky deep-threat receiver, the Vikings have given Sam Bradford more to work with in 2017 than last year – by a wide margin.

But did they do enough to push Bradford’s play to a Super Bowl level?

In order to answer that question, we must know what qualifies as “Super Bowl level.”

The website Football Perspective recently published a series of articles focusing on the importance of passing in the NFL and whether its significance has changed over the years.

It might come as a surprise that more teams with mediocre ratings in Adjusted Yards Per Attempt, which factors in sacks, interceptions and touchdowns, have won the Super Bowl recently. Expansion, salary cap and parity have all increased the chance that a so-so or even bad passing game can win the Super Bowl.

Still, the average ranking in ANY/A for Super Bowl teams is sixth and six of the last eight Super Bowl winners have been in the top six.

Last year’s Vikings ranked 16th in ANY/A, tied with the San Diego Chargers. Not all ANY/A rankings are the same. Low interception numbers boosted their ANY/A despite Minnesota sitting dead last in Yards Per Completion.

Going from sixth to 16th doesn’t sound like a huge jump until you find out who ranked sixth: The Green Bay Packers.

Here’s the top 5: Atlanta (9.0 ANY/A), New England (8.5), Dallas (7.6), Washington (7.6), New Orleans (7.4).

Green Bay averaged 7.1 ANY/A compared to the Vikings’ 6.4.

If they still only threw 5 interceptions and were sacked the same number of times, in order to make the jump to match the Packers, the Vikings would have had to either A) Throw for 4,300 yards or B) Throw 25 more touchdowns or C) Throw for 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns.

Even if the Vikings had thrown zero interceptions, it only would have upped the Adjusted Yards Per Attempt to 6.8.

As you’ve probably already concluded, it’s going to be a tough task for the Vikings to get into the range of an average Super Bowl winning passing offense. Even with better protection, more weapons and an effective running game, matching the same season the Packers had throwing the ball in 2016 or better is a tall order.

Defensively, however, they were already there in 2016.

The Vikings ranked fourth in ANY/A against, putting them ahead of the average champion (again, chart via Football Perspective).

While there are outliers on the passing offense side, there aren’t many on the passing defense side. It appears to be a prerequisite for winning a title and the Vikings should be expected to have that box checked off in 2017.

This puts the Vikings squarely in the it’s-possible category. But without some improvement in the passing game, the only way they could compete for a title would be as an outlier like the Denver Broncos in 2015 – a team that had a historically good defense.

  • Tom Gerber

    But you cant’ look at just the passing game. Don’t you have to factor in the run game too? That impacts a teams passing game to some degree. It’s a combo.

    • TN vfan

      The vikings off-season was all about improving the running game, both new tackles and our newly drafted center have shown the ability to be average run blockers, but haven’t been good at pass blocking. Even the running back we took in the draft, who is a stud in the open field, is a poor pass blocker and an average at best pass catcher. Based on which running back is in the game the opposing defense will have a good idea whether we are going to run or pass. The vikings are looking to be a run first team. I expect Zimmer is looking for the passing game to be more efficient , but less relied on. More like our 2015 season, or like Dallas was last season. Even the Seattle seasons form a few rears back. Look for a little over 3000 passing yards, and expect 20 TDs and 10 ints. The line will not be historically bad, and there will be better run blocking. Add that to a top five defense, and the Vikings have a shot at the play-offs. But with an extremely tough schedule, the defense will need to get more stops at the ends of games so we can will all the close ones. That was the difference between 2015 and 2016. I think we make a few more first downs on 3rd or 4th and 1, and make a few more field-goals. Its going to be tough, but there is hope.

      • linus

        The Vikings didn’t sign Reiff because he is better in the running game than the passing game. They want better o-line play overall, and Reiff was the best LT available under age 30. The fact that he, Remmers, and Elflein may be better run-blockers than pass-blockers is a function of who was available, not any particular focus on improving the run.

        • cka2nd

          Then why not make a push for Ricky Wagner, an under 30 RT far better than Remmers as a pass blocker but not as a run blocker? I agree that Speilman and Zimmer targeted, as usual, free agents under 30, but it sure looks like they were focusing specifically on the running game, as well, especially since that was the part of the offense that truly reeked last year.

          Personally, I think the Vikings are a 10-6 or 11-5 team at the moment, and that’s assuming no major injuries and almost everyone either playing as well or better than last year OR as well or better than they have played at their natural positions (Reiff and Remmers) OR bouncing back from 2016 to their 2015 level (Barr and McKinnon). The only positions were I am factoring in some falloff, but not a lot, are CB2 and slot CB (neither Newman nor Waynes will match the former’s performance of last year, and Alexander should be good but not quite as good as Munnerlyn), 3-Tech DT (Tom Johnson had a good year in run defense last year, per PFF, but has consistently followed good years with bad ones, but Jaleel Johnson might make up for that) and Adam Thielen at WR. I don’t really expect Thielen to be worse than last year, but it’s a fact that wide receivers who have surprising breakout years can be brought back to earth the next year after one’s opponents get to study their film (see Kamar Aiken).

          The running game should be much better than last year. The passing game should be somewhat better with the new starters on the OL and Floyd replacing Patterson at WR3 and Murray coming out of the backfield. The big question on defense is Anthony Barr. If he returns to or improves on his 2015 form, the pass defense should be better with Hunter starting at LDE and Jaleel Johnson getting reps inside, even with some small falloff in cornerback play. The run defense should be slightly better with a rejuvenated Barr, Gedeon or Brothers getting some first and second down reps and Hunter at LDE.

          Could we challenge for a Super Bowl and not just the division title. If Theilen and Diggs continue improving, AND if Cook, Elflein and J. Johnson all contribute more than expected, AND if Waynes really steps up, then maybe, just maybe, a top five or even top three defense can carry a better than average offense – top 10 if the stars all align just right – to the big show.

          • Tnfan

            That all makes sense to me, but based on the schedule, you might be a couple wins high

      • Nicholas Ward

        Reiff and Remmers are both top 10 run blockers per PFF at their positions, LT and RT respectively. Elflein is a better run blocker than pass blocker. We improved the run blocking for sure. The theme was run blocking and that’s why Okung was of interest.

  • linus

    “While there are outliers on the passing offense side, there aren’t many on the passing defense side.” Hunh… so has Coller finally admitted that defense wins championships? After insisting throughout last season’s playoffs that offense was more important?

  • brian199511

    The Vikings simply need an offensive line that performs at league average so the running and passing game can be effective. I believe with OL FAs, UDFAs and the draft they have succeeded. Reiff and Remmers are better at the run but also better than what we had at pass blocking. Bradford is the QB we need as is the backfield. Still a bit unsure about the WRs but many teams would trade personnel with the Vikings. Hope springs eternal for Viking fans.

    • Tnfan

      The line should be able to be average in the running game. But it’s unrealistic to think they will be average pass blockers. We will need to be a quick passing team again. I am hoping each pass can be 1 yard deeper

  • Andre Esters

    Errrr… I get it… it’s only May… after the long awaited draft, all we have until August is imaginary rankings, numbers, graphs, and all sorts of conjecture.
    Can’t wait until official kickoffs; then we can properly get back into the weekly cycle of 3-game averages dictating who’s Super Bowl bound or Hall of Fame material.

  • Gordon Guffey

    Matthew Coller wrote ::: Last year’s Vikings ranked 16th in ANY/A, tied with the San Diego
    Chargers. Not all ANY/A rankings are the same. Low interception numbers
    boosted their ANY/A despite Minnesota sitting dead last in Yards Per

    This can many time be the case of the offense or the play calling of the OC ~ Lack of talent can have a huge effect as well ~ Its not always as simple as it can be made to look on paper ~ So judging any QB has to be a open window when viewing in at what he has done the year before ~ Zimmer has preached keeping turnover down sense day one ~ How many times have we heard do throw that INT or fumble the ball and put and let the defense do it job ~
    At times it hurt the Vikings because of close game when they lost the lead late and the offense was forced to throw the ball ~ Meaning the QB has to try and make something happen ~ But what doesn’t get talked about is the fact the receiverTERB not getting open or the OL losing their block ~ So much more goes into what makes ((( most QB’s good or bad ))) the offense go than what a QB does or doesn’t do ~ Improve the running game and then the QB isn’t facing 3rd and 7 or even 3rd and 10 ~ What I’m talking about would have effected last years QB for the Vikings no matter who he was ~ Even the great Tom Brady would have had a hard time putting together a great season surrounded by Norv and Scott Tuner and the OL the Vikings had last year ~ It might have been Tom who got mad and took his ball and when home before Norv ever got the chance ~
    By the way has anyone heard Norv or Scott’s name come up in any of the offseason coaching staff talks anywhere ~ I haven’t heard a word about either since they were fired ~

  • MrDrapes

    Without a better run game the passing won’t be much better.

  • PurpleFaithful

    Just compare passer rating efficiency differential.
    Our offensive passing efficency compared with how well we defend the pass.
    Cold hard football facts, Coller.

  • Tnfan

    The vikes want to be a running or run first team, both new tackles and our drafted center, we’re at least ok run blockers, but lacking in pass blocking . They want to pass less than last year. And they will need to. Murray is a good pass blocking RB, but he was the 3rd best RB on his team with a great OL last year. When he isin the Vikings will be primarily passing. When Cook is in they will be primarily running. They are sabotaging their passing game.

    I expect they tried to sign Bradford, but I expect he wants to play for a pass first team and with AZ openly drooling over him, he will have options.
    It will be saying something if they can’t keep a guy like Bradford with his close ties to the state.


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