The team's offense was jolted in a different direction, perhaps permanently, when Teddy Bridgewater injured his left knee on Aug. 30. And after the Vikings traded for Sam Bradford on Sept. 3 (in part because of Shurmur's insight on the quarterback), they effectively hitched their fortunes to the quarterback for the immediate future. If the Vikings were going to move forward with Bradford as their starter -- as both his contract and coach Mike Zimmer's words last week suggested -- it only made sense to keep the coordinator who had worked with Bradford the most.
But the move also gives the Vikings a chance to establish something they've sought at various points since Brett Favre left town: an offensive identity.
At their best moments in the last six seasons, the Vikings have rooted their offense on Adrian Peterson, counting on the running back both to close out games and provide the big plays they often lacked from their passing offense. It worked in 2012, when Peterson ran for 1,353 yards in the final eight games -- a figure that still seems to defy explanation -- and carried the Vikings to the playoffs despite Percy Harvin's ankle injury and Christian Ponder's limitations. It worked again in 2015, when Peterson, a stout defense, and a competent Bridgewater helped the Vikings go 11-5.
In between those two playoff seasons, though -- and sometimes even during them -- the Vikings have worked to define themselves on offense. They went from Donovan McNabb to Ponder in 2011, endured the three-ring Ponder-Matt Cassel-Josh Freeman circus in 2013, lost Cassel five days after Peterson was barred from the field in 2014 and tried to broker the sometimes-clumsy fit between Peterson and Bridgewater in 2015. Even in 2016, after the Vikings acquired Bradford, they shuttled between the concepts Shurmur had previously used with the quarterback and the ones Norv Turner preferred until Turner resigned on Nov. 2. The Vikings have too often seemed a collection of mismatched parts on offense, and they haven't ranked better than 14th in scoring offense since 2009, when they finished second.
There's no guarantee that the Shurmur-Bradford pairing, now that it seems etched in something more than pencil, will boost the Vikings' offense back into the top 10 of the league. They still ranked only 23rd in the league in scoring after Shurmur took over, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and they'll have to answer major questions about the composition of the offensive line, the future of Peterson in Minnesota, the sufficiency of their playmakers and the role Bridgewater would play if he recovers from his knee injury. But as the Vikings move forward with the quarterback they acquired in September, and the coordinator he's played for in three cities, they at least appear to be moving toward something more cogent. Shurmur will get an offseason to design the scheme, rather than make incremental adjustments in the middle of the season, and Bradford will continue a partnership with the coordinator who knows him best.
Shurmur's history suggests the Vikings will likely do in 2017 much of what we saw in 2016; they'll line up in the shotgun frequently, throw plenty of short passes and try to involve their running backs in the passing game. Those ideas won't represent the entirety of their scheme, and they might have to be tweaked as the Vikings look to add more explosiveness to an offense that tied for the sixth-fewest plays of 15 yards or more, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
But with Shurmur calling the shots and Bradford taking the snaps, it's at least easier to say with some certainty what the Vikings are going to be. An offense that has been twisted and stretched, in scheme and personnel, through much of the decade has a coordinator and quarterback in sync with one another. That means nothing without on-field productivity, but it's at least a start.