The Vikings completed the installation of their offensive playbook with the completion of minicamp last week, but the challenge of becoming an offense equally as effective throwing the ball as running the ball will remain when the regular season is on the doorstep.
The Vikings only had 1,001 offensive plays last year, 20th in the NFL and 190 fewer than the league-leading New England Patriots. Minnesota's yards per game was also 20th, at 336 – 91 fewer than the Patriots.
First downs and third downs per game weren't much better: 18th and 19th, respectively.
"The more first downs we get, the more we get to stay on the field," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "Offense is so different from defense, where on defense if you're successful you get to go three-and-out and sit on the bench. On offense we want to stay out there.
"So the better we become running the ball, which we're already pretty good with Adrian, if we can be better throwing the ball we can stay out there and everybody can get more touches or more opportunities. And that's our plan, to be more productive in the passing game, to balance the running game with Adrian and then everyone will get their shot."
With a running game as good as the Vikings featured in 2012 and Adrian Peterson leading the league with 2,097 rushing yards – second-most in NFL history – you might think they were able to control the clock. That guess would be wrong, however, as the Vikings were 26th in time off possession at 28:36, more than four minutes behind the pace of the league-leading Houston Texans.
One of the problems is that Peterson's success wasn't complemented by a consistent passing game. Christian Ponder had an 81.2 passer rating, 21st in the league, despite teams knowing the Vikings had a better rushing game than passing game.
Peterson averaged 1.87 yards per carry more than the NFL average, and the Vikings averaged 164.6 rushing yards per game – 48.7 more rushing yards than the average team. Ponder averaged .62 yards per pass less than the NFL average and the Vikings averaged 171.9 yards passing per game – 59.4 less than the average team.
Ponder said his comfort level in Musgrave's offense is growing, but he admitted it will take more from him as a quarterback. Even so, he isn't sure if there will be more emphasis on the passing game in 2013, Ponder's third season in the NFL.
"I don't know if there's an emphasis. I think as an offense, we'll continue to find out our identity as we play more games in the season," he said. "Obviously having Adrian out there, we want to establish the run. I think that's always been our mindset. But to continue to develop the passing game, we know we need more yards in the air and more big plays in the air. So we'll see what works. We've got to find our identity and continue to do so. But having Greg (Jennings) and Cordarrelle (Patterson), Jarius (Wright) and Jerome (Simpson) and then our tight ends Kyle (Rudolph) and John (Carlson), there's guys that can catch the ball."
Musgrave said the offensive had "a tremendous spring" while going through the installation period during their 13 days of practices. They had nearly 100 percent attendance, which should help and even allows for a little more experimentation.
"We want to have a little trial and error at this time of year, but we also want to be effective and efficient, so there's a fine line there with taking chances but not getting careless," Musgrave said. "But we are, we have the whole playbook in and some of the guys' minds are swimming because we don't have a game plan that we can hone in on. We've had a full spring of offense and we're really pushing them mentally, stretching them."
Nearly everyone admits that Ponder's progress will be the key to an improved – and balanced – offense. Receiving weapons like Jennings and Patterson should help, but nearly everyone associated with the Vikings admits they are likely to remain a run-first offense, even if Ponder doesn't want to admit it.
"We want to establish the run and use Adrian as much as possible. I don't want to classify us as a run offense or a pass offense," Ponder said. "We're going to do what works."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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