How the Vikings Can Put Josh Freeman in Best Position to Enjoy Early Success

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IOctober 16, 2013

Expect the Minnesota Vikings to run a relatively simple offense with Josh Freeman, who, signed just over a week ago, is slated to be the starting quarterback against the New York Giants on Monday night.

Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier confirmed Wednesday at a press conference that he is anticipating Freeman to be mentally capable of taking over as the starter, despite having limited practice time.

"We're going to try and get Josh ready for this Monday night ballgame," Frazier said. "He's spent a lot of time with our coaches from the day he arrived to prepare to play and eventually start for our team. We'll see how this week goes, but our anticipation is that he will be ready to go Monday night and that he'll perform well."

The blueprint for providing Freeman a chance to succeed early on should include a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson, mixed with basic passing concepts and opportunities to attack downfield.

While starting quarterbacks typically have months upon months to learn a playbook and go through offensive installs, Freeman will be operating Monday night with just 15 days and a handful of practices under his belt in Minnesota. This reality will limit how much of the playbook offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave can realistically utilize early on.

More than likely, the Vikings developed a basic game plan early this week with the idea that Freeman would take first-team reps Wednesday through Friday. Musgrave and the offensive coaches could then ensure that Freeman's understanding of the plays needed this week was developed enough that he can start Monday night. 

Right on cue, Freeman took starting reps Wednesday.

Frazier said that a number of factors made him comfortable inserting the 25-year-old as the new starter.

"I like the things he's done in his career, along with what he's done since he's arrived here with our football team, the time that he's put in, how well he's adapted to our system," Frazier said. "I like his work ethic. He's done enough for us to say that we want to give him this opportunity." 

One play Freeman should have down pat is the handoff to No. 28. 

With a passing package that is likely to be limited, the Vikings will need big games early on—and especially Monday night—from their MVP running back. 

Through five games, Peterson has been somewhat quiet, or at least in his terms. He's currently averaging fewer carries (20 in 2013, 22 in 2012), rushing yards (96.6, 131) and yards per carry (4.7, 6.0) this season compared to the last. Peterson is also coming off his worst game of 2013, a 35-10 loss in which he carried just 10 times for 62 yards. 

With a limited Freeman under center, the Vikings likely can't survive if Peterson is receiving only 10 carries or gaining only 62 rushing yards. 

Unless Minnesota somehow finds itself down by a large margin early on in New York, Peterson can be expected to take on the lion's share of the offensive workload against the Giants. He could very well receive 25 or more carries as the Vikings ease Freeman into the fold. 

Musgrave (left) will be working with a basic set of plays Monday night.
Musgrave (left) will be working with a basic set of plays Monday night.Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

That said, no modern NFL offense can operate without the quarterback making plays in the passing game. It will land at Musgrave's doorstep to concoct a game plan that gives Freeman easy progressions and throws, especially against a Giants defense that ranks dead last in points allowed and 24th in yards. 

Bootlegs, screens and quick hitters to receivers are all ways Musgrave can get Freeman comfortable while also limiting the mental processes needed. Each requires a simple throw on the first read. 

Frazier didn't seem worried about the playbook being too condensed with Freeman under center. 

"We'll have enough from our playbook where he can function and have success, and allow our offense to have success as well," Frazier said. "We're not going to have our entire playbook, but we don't do that anyway. We have game plans, specifically for that team, and that's what we've done here. We'll have enough in, but where he won't get bogged down."

Part of the Vikings game plan this week should include more down-the-field throws. 

According to Ben Goessling of ESPN, Freeman has attempted 139 passes traveling over 20 yards in the air since 2011, and his total QBR is higher on those type of throws than both Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel's. 

In 2010—his best season as a professional—Freeman completed 23 of 72 "deep" throws for 754 yards, seven touchdowns and just two interceptions, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). His passer rating on those attempts was 93.1, which finished in the top five of starting quarterbacks that season. 

Standing 6'6" and weighing 240 pounds, Freeman can stand tall in the pocket and deliver the football vertically. And with Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson and Cordarrelle Patterson at his disposal, Freeman should be provided ample opportunity to take seven-step drops and take aim deep. 

Attacking downfield will be even more important if defenses predictably stack the box against Peterson. The Giants should know how important it will be for Minnesota to establish the run, but the Vikings can counter any plan to take away Peterson with Freeman taking shots vertically when New York brings eight or more players into the box. 

The new Vikings quarterback should be thrilled with all the simple coverages likely coming his way.

Per Goessling, Freeman faced just 45 eight-man boxes over the last three seasons in Tampa Bay. Ponder saw almost triple that amount with Peterson in the backfield since 2011. The chances will be there to attack the deep portions of the field, even with a quarterback still developing a knowledge base in the offense. 

Frazier said multiple times Wednesday how impressed he was with Freeman's quick education in the offense. He's not anywhere close to where he needs to be to run the entire Vikings offense, but Freeman's natural skill level provided Minnesota with an opportunity to start him now.

The Vikings should run the offense through Peterson and the running game while Freeman gets up to speed. If he can make the quick and easy throws and still efficiently attack down the field, Freeman will be in a position to succeed as Minnesota's new starter right away. 


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