With a new coaching regime in Minnesota, the Vikings are set to undergo a complete makeover on the offensive side of the ball.
Norv Turner—who was the offensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns last season, after spending six years as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers—will assume the offensive play-calling duties for Minnesota this season.
The first order of business for Turner will be picking between veteran Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater to start under center.
Although I have stated that I think Cassel will get the early nod (and, according to a story by CBS Sports, Turner likes Cassel’s game, making that idea very possible), Bridgewater will get a shot at some point during the year.
Cassel has experience and has performed decently when given an opportunity, but Minnesota could opt to throw Bridgewater into the fire if Cassel struggles.
With that in mind, here are a few things to expect from the 2014 Vikings offense, specifically if/when Bridgewater gets the starting nod.
Strong running game
During his first three years in San Diego, Turner fed former All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson the ball a total of 830 times, including 315 times in 2007, despite the presence of Philip Rivers (who has improved drastically since that season).
With the Vikings, especially considering the possibility of having a rookie quarterback starting, Adrian Peterson will be the work-horse back and lead the Vikings’ offensive attack (nothing new here).
The need to stack the box against Peterson will open up opportunities in the passing game for the rookie signal-caller, especially to second-year man Cordarrelle Patterson, but we’ll touch more on Patterson later.
Increased usage of tight end Kyle Rudolph
In San Diego and Cleveland, Turner had the luxury of having tight ends Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron at his disposal, with both finding success under his watch.
In Minnesota, he will have Kyle Rudolph, who was the MVP of the 2013 Pro Bowl.
After an ineffective 2013-2014 season due to a broken foot, Rudolph could be well on his way to having a bounce-back year.
Turner is going to have a field day using Rudolph in multiple formations.
While in San Diego, Turner liked to line Gates up all over the field, whether in-line, in a two-point stance within four yards of the line of scrimmage (still making him a tight end) or out wide and in the slot.
One formation where the Vikings could see a lot of success is in four receiver sets, like in the following image.
With Gates lined up in the interior slot position, alongside two receivers on his side and one on the opposite side of the formation, Gates gets into a matchup with a slot cornerback, providing a size mismatch in Gates’ favor.
This is one formation that Turner could use Rudolph in frequently. He doesn't have the athleticism of Gates, but his size (6'6", 258 pounds) and strength make him just as difficult for defensive backs and linebackers to limit his impact.
Even before the arrival of Turner, Rudolph had experience lining up in the slot.
Last season before his foot injury, he ran 94 of his 234 routes (40.2 percent) from the slot. He hauled in 16 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns without dropping a single pass, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Rudolph might not be the only member of the Vikings' receiving corps to have a chance at a breakout season, though…
Cordarrelle Patterson could become Percy Harvin 2.0
Aside from Rudolph, Turner will have another versatile receiving threat looking to have a breakout season.
After 45 receptions, 469 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, Cordarrelle Patterson could end up being the most important piece of Minnesota's passing game in his second year.
First off, he can line up anywhere on the field, similar to former Vikings receiver Percy Harvin. Patterson has the size to line up outside at 6’2” and 220 pounds, yet he also possesses the game-breaking speed to make plays from the slot position.
Here is an example of how Patterson was utilized as a rookie.
On the play above, Patterson snags a 24-yard reception from the slot. As the route develops, Patterson’s speed allows him to beat the nickelback, make a quick cut toward the sideline and make the catch as the left cornerback closes in.
On this play, which resulted in a 14-yard gain via a screen, Patterson lines up in a bunch formation on the play side on the field.
After the snap, the two receivers to Patterson’s right run five yards and throw a block, which frees Patterson to gain 14 yards on the play.
In the final play, Patterson is lined up on the outside right of the formation with the left cornerback playing very soft coverage on him.
After the snap, Patterson runs a post route, cutting right across the middle of the Baltimore zone defense to make a 20-yard reception.
His ability to attack the opening in the middle of the zone will be extremely beneficial for Bridgewater, especially because of his ability to quickly deliver balls in the middle of the field.
The following is a chart showing the direction in which Bridgewater delivered most of his passes.
If you look at Philip Rivers’ pass charts on Pro Football Focus, you can see that most of the pass plays Turner ran in San Diego resulted in receptions in the middle of the field.
It is no guarantee that Bridgewater will be an instant success, but having playmakers such as Patterson, Peterson, Rudolph and veteran Greg Jennings at his disposal, and an offensive coordinator who will run the offense to his strengths, will certainly make his rookie year run more smoothly than most.