The Vikings are taking a four-pronged approach in trying to explain the lack of a consistent passing game in their 24-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
It was one part Donovan McNabb, who called his performance "embarrassing," one part offensive line protection, one part playmakers that didn't live up to their job, either, and one part the result of Adrian Peterson's running ability leaving the Vikings feeling like they didn't have to pass much … until it was too late. In other words, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is saying there has to be better all-around execution and fewer concerns about making adjustments in schemes or personnel.
McNabb had only 39 yards passing, completing 7 of 15 throws with one touchdown and an interception. It led to a paltry 47.9 passer rating.
"There are some things he will definitely want to improve on, but you look at the entire team, there are some things that we need to improve on as a team that in turn will help him and help our football team," Frazier said Monday. "He did some good things in that football game. Came out with good enthusiasm and did a good job of leading us early on to a score. But there are some things that we want to improve on as a team all the way around."
The first play was the worst as far as results are concerned. By the time McNabb got on the field, the Vikings had a 7-0 lead after Percy Harvin's game-opening, 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
McNabb's first play as a Viking was an interception. He audibled out of running play and wanted to get the ball to Percy Harvin, who was split out wide left, but the quick hitter never materialized because outside linebacker Shaun Phillips jumped up, tipped the ball and then intercepted it at the Minnesota 6-yard line. Three plays later, the game was tied.
"It was a look that we were looking for. He saw something and it's designed for him to make that decision," Frazier said of the audible. "He's going to try to get the defensive end's hands down if he can. Shaun Phillips is a great player. He made a great play."
McNabb wasn't helped out by his teammates as consistently as Frazier would like, either. His pass protection was shaky at times. Two of the Vikings' longer gains were the result of McNabb having to scramble because left tackle Charlie Johnson wasn't able to sustain his block.
"I don't know if we have to make a lot of adjustments. Donovan threw 15 passes and the times where he did have someone in his face, it wasn't that we needed to adjust a protection – we needed to do some things a little bit better," Frazier said. "We do have some times where we'll have a tight end or a back coming to a special rusher, but that wasn't the case so much yesterday. We have to be able to execute certain plays a little bit better and I think we will."
After gaining 161 yards of offense in the first half, the Vikings finished the game with 187. Of those, Peterson contributed 98 yards rushing and McNabb had 32 yards rushing. With Peterson averaging 6.1 yards per carry, the Vikings didn't feel much of a need to balance their attack. The result was 26 rushing attempts and only 15 pass attempts.
"We were running the football so well. And we believed that we were going to get more opportunities by converting some third downs, which would allow you to keep some drives going," Frazier said. "And when we missed those opportunities, before you know it, you're in a situation where you have to throw the football down the field. You don't want to be in that situation. You want to be able to remain balanced. And when it got to the point, maybe with five minutes to go, and we had to throw it down the field because of where we were, it became a little bit more predictable for them, a little bit harder for us."
Frazier acknowledged that McNabb wasn't helped much by his playmakers. The one big shot the Vikings took down the field was to Bernard Berrian. On that fourth-quarter pass, cornerback Antoine Cason got a hand on the ball, but it was a catch that would have helped McNabb and the Vikings. That third-down incompletion resulted in a punt and the Vikings had only one more offensive series – a three-and-out affair.
Berrian was targeted twice with no receptions. Percy Harvin, who had two catches on four targets, also lost a third-down battle to Cason for a ball. And tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who didn't play a game all preseason, simply dropped the only pass that came his way.
"What we have to be able to do when that happens is our playmakers end up having to make some plays even though you may be covered. It may mean coming back to the football for another yard," Frazier said, which may have been the case with Berrian's fourth-quarter target. "It may mean the quarterback getting the ball out a little bit sooner. It may mean an offensive lineman being able to sustain his block a little bit longer. But they did a good job with some of the things that they were doing the second half. And we have to do a little bit better job of executing in certain situations."
The Vikings failed in a number of ways Sunday, but the passing game is where the Vikings really dropped the ball.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Vikings explain the lack of passing success
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