5 Changes the Minnesota Vikings Should Make to Improve Their Offense
Statistically, the Minnesota Vikings' offense resides just inside the top half of the league in total offense (15th, 350.5 yards per game).
But it doesn't feel that way. Something ain't right.
A run game that averaged 5.4 yards per carry last season is down almost a full yard (4.6).
The offensive line is at the root of that problem.
It was considered one of the best in 2012 but hasn't gotten the push necessary to spring Adrian Peterson for big gains and struggles to keep its quarterback upright.
When that quarterback has been upright, he (Christian Ponder) has given Minnesota a consistently poor effort, which has decreased the value of the $47.5 million man (Greg Jennings) and the 2012 Pro Bowl MVP (Kyle Rudolph).
Add in a resurgent Jerome Simpson and a raw but extremely athletic Cordarrelle Patterson and the Vikings offense should be capable of so much more.
Inside are five adjustments that could help spark the Minnesota offense and allow the defense to continue at its abysmal pace.
Name Matt Cassel the Starting Quarterback
Major hints have been dropped that this move has been made, including this ESPN report, but it hasn't been announced to the public.
It's a pretty easy move.
The Vikings are 0-3 when Christian Ponder starts. He hasn't thrown for more than 236 yards, completed more than 64.5 percent of his passes, posted a passer rating above 75.3 or thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in a game.
If anything, he has regressed since last season when he could at least hang his hat on performances against San Francisco (21 of 35 for 198 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions while posting a 94.7 passer rating) and Green Bay to end the regular season (16 of 28 for 234 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a passer rating of 120.2).
Ponder has only thrown for more than 270 yards twice in his career, and those occurred in 2011 and 2012.
Now, Cassel isn't a sure thing.
Kansas City fans were so disgusted with him last season that they disgustingly cheered when he left a game with a concussion.
And look at what he did against Pittsburgh in Week 5: 16 of 25 for 248 yards, two touchdowns and ZERO interceptions.
Then listen to what Adrian Peterson had to say after that game.
"[Cassel] is more vocal," Peterson told Yahoo! Sports, "so he was out there and he was saying it to us in the huddle and you could see guys buying into it and keeping the huddle together. And that is all you can ask for from any player, especially in the quarterback position."
Cassel deserves the opportunity in Week 6 and if his success continues, he shouldn't be overtaken by Josh Freeman.
Include More Halfback Screens
This baffles me more than anything else about Minnesota's offense.
The skills are there for halfback screen to be a dangerous weapon in the Vikings' arsenal.
With Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, who isn't what he could have been but still has succeeded when given opportunities in the screen game, this play should generate yards in the passing game while also throwing a wrench into defenses game plans.
Not only should the running backs thrive with this play, but the offensive line should, too.
John Sullivan is a very agile center and it's not as if Charlie Johnson or Brandon Fusco are overpowering guards. And Matt Kalil is about as athletic of an offensive tackle as there is in the NFL.
And given the deficiencies of the passing game, this would allow Minnesota to have some vertical success. This could have been Christian Ponder's best friend. Instead it never gets used.
Chalk it up to another reason Bill Musgrave is on the hot seat as offensive coordinator.
Get Cordarrelle Patterson on the Field More
In mid September coach Leslie Frazier told Pro Football Talk and numerous others he wanted Cordarrelle Patterson to be more involved with the offense.
Nearly a month later and four games into the season, Patterson has caught six passes for 82 yards and zero touchdowns on nine targets. He's also rushed once for 0 yards.
Despite Patterson's non-existence offensively, he's turned heads as a kick returner. His talents are so well received that he was named the NFC's special team's player of the month for September.
He averaged 33.5 yards per kickoff return and posted a 105-yard return for a touchdown Week 2 against the Chicago Bears.
Now, special teams success doesn't mean Patterson should be entitled to more offensive touches. Just look at Devin Hester. He'll go down as one of the league's best returners but hasn't ever developed into a legit wide receiver.
But Patterson, unlike Hester, is a natural wide receiver. It was the position he was drafted to play.
He's a raw route runner and is prone to some drops, but get the ball in his hands and let him work.
Minnesota started to do this with Percy Harvin last season.
Wide receiver screens. Hand him the ball in the backfield. Heck, give him a halfback screen.
Success as a kick returner transfers into getting the ball in the open field on offense. Getting the ball in space with blockers in front of you (whether it's a kickoff return, halfback screen or wide receiver screen) is the same on a kick return as it is with a halfback or wide receiver screen (overlooking the speed build up on the former and reception in the latter).
But knowing how to make defenders miss, which is vital to success in all three, is the same.
Give Patterson more opportunities and let his natural instincts kick in.
Move Kyle Rudolph Around
From Pro Bowl MVP to offensive afterthought: the story of Kyle Rudolph.
It's been a disappointing season for Rudolph, as has been the case for many Vikings.
After his "breakout" 2012 campaign, many thought the sky was the limit for the former Notre Dame tight end.
Based upon one ESPN report, Rudolph is projected as the league's second best tight end in 2016 because of his demonstrated skills last season.
At this point, that projection seems a bit off.
Part of Rudolph's struggles can absolutely be blamed on Christian Ponder's performance. But Rudolph hasn't been able to consistently get open. And that's on him.
But he could use some help.
And that can come from Bill Musgrave and the other offensive coaches.
Far too often Rudolph is lined up as a traditional tight end.
The league's best receiving tight ends don't spend majority of the game lined up as tight ends.
Those teams aren't letting the receiving talents of their tight ends go to waste.
Minnesota should follow suit.
Send Rudolph wide as a split end and give him some jump balls in the end zone. Set him in the slot and allow him to run short slants. Get him away from the interior of the defense where linemen can jam him and linebackers can bump him.
Absolutely still line him up as a traditional tight end, but change things up a bit from time to time. Give him different looks. Give the defense different looks.
Something has got to give because Rudolph is too talented for the pace he's on: 48 receptions for 412 yards and four touchdowns.
Fire Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave
It's been apparent for a while: Bill Musgrave calls a poor offensive game.
The Minnesota offensive coordinator lacks creativity and his calls are predictable.
Hand-offs to Adrian Peterson on first and second down. Failed pass attempt over the middle or on an out route.
At least in 2011 and to an extent last season, Musgrave could fall back to the fact he lacked playmakers on his offense. He couldn't run any unique plays because he lacked the talent to make them work.
But this is 2013. Minnesota's receiving corps is respectable: Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson and Cordarrelle Patterson should be able to do what needs to be done to have a successful passing game.
Throw in 2013 Pro Bowl MVP Kyle Rudolph and Adrian Peterson in your backfield and this offense should be able to put up enough points to be successful and somewhat entertaining.
But week after week, it's so much of the same.
This won't happen midseason. But if things continue down this path he should be let go after the season, regardless of Leslie Frazier's status within the organization.