Sunday slant: Offense adjusting too late?

The Vikings started the season with too much traffic for Adrian Peterson to be effective and he wasn't helped by too few receivers with too much inward motion. Finally, that is starting to change, but it seems too late to save the season or the jobs of some coaches.

It might be too late for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to save his job, but the Minnesota Vikings front office at least has a chance to find out if QB Christian Ponder can operate effectively when given ideal circumstances and put in the best position to succeed.

Although shooting arrows at an offensive coordinator is a seasonal pastime in cities with struggling NFL franchises, Musgrave does have some creativeness to his schemes. But when it comes to implementing the best players and giving his key players ideal opportunities, there were some confounding trends in film review the first couple months of this season.

Musgrave came to Minnesota touting a two-tight end offense and found the effectiveness of Adrian Peterson bolstered with Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton in front of him. But since Peterson's rookie season in 2007, we've been incessantly reminded how often "the box" is loaded with extra defenders when Peterson is on the field. At times, when talking about nine or 10 defenders in the box, it's pure hyperbole. But more often than not, Peterson does see eight defenders in "the box" between the attached tight ends and within five yards of the line of scrimmage. On occasion, that balloons to nine.

Loading the box is more easily accomplished when Musgrave has his two- and three-tight end sets employed or some combination of tight ends and Felton. But it seemed to be with increasing frequency early this season that he began motioning receivers closer to the formation, which, in turn, brought cornerbacks or safeties closer to the Peterson action.

Even people within the organization have expressed dismay at how often the formations were bunched. In other words, it seemed, Musgrave was aiding the opposing efforts to stop "All Day."

Finally, that changed in the Vikings' last outing against the Washington Redskins.

According to ESPN, the Vikings had used four-receiver sets only four times before the Redskins game, and just debuted five-receiver sets for three snaps against the Dallas Cowboys in the previous game. But against the Redskins, they had five receivers on the field 17 times and it helped spread out the defense, thereby widening the running lanes for Peterson.

Another advantage to spreading it out is that, without a fullback in front of Peterson, it allows Ponder to be in the shotgun formation more often.

"It seems like he does a lot of good things out of the gun, especially when we are in the up-tempo situation, whether it's no-huddle or end the half, end of a ballgame. He really shows well in those situations," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "But we do a lot of stuff under center that he's gotten better at as well. Coming out of a college system where he was in the gun a lot, he has excelled at times in the gun."

It's easy to question Ponder's effectiveness after his first three starts of the season, but after some time off and some overdue adjustments to the offense, Ponder has the fifth-best "Quarterback Rating" (according to ESPN's formula) in the NFL when in the shotgun, completing 35 of 51 passes for 289 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. According to the QBR of ESPN, Ponder has a 72.7 rating in the shotgun this season and only 35.2 when under center.

"I think it helps a lot of quarterbacks in today's day and age," Musgrave said of the shotgun. "Defenses are so complex that (quarterbacks) can get back there, take a mental picture of it before the ball is snapped to them or get them back to their launching point sooner than they could travel on their own two feet. It definitely helps."

So the logical question is why the Vikings waited until recently to employ the shotgun and the spread formations on a more regular basis?

"We wanted to get our run game going, trying to get some things going in other parts of our offense and also bringing along our receivers," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "We're at a point we feel like we can be proficient in doing it."

Even so, Musgrave said the Vikings can still run out of the shotgun, although it does limit the usage of Felton. But Peterson is averaging more than 5 yards a carry on 19 carries this season out of the shotgun or pistol, according to ESPN.

"We're heading in that direction. We had some shotgun runs the last two weeks. We hadn't always been a shotgun-run team because we had a running back that's very good when you put him directly behind the center, but you want to play to his strengths, as well," Frazier said. "We'll do some things to help us, but I don't think we'll ever be exclusively an offset-running back team."

Nor should they be. Predictability is the enemy of NFL coaches that don't have an elite quarterback.

But the question is whether the coaches waited too long to put Ponder in his comfort zone by spreading out defenses and putting their quarterback in the shotgun, where he can most effectively survey the field. This year, they finally had the receiving corps to spread it out, but it hadn't been employed often enough until last week.


  • Had Greg Jennings stayed with the Packers he might have experienced the quarterback turnover there that he has had in Minnesota this year, but before this season it had been a position of stability for Jennings. "It is what it is. It's a game that you have to overcome adversity," he said.

  • The Seahawks have a virtual embarrassment of riches in physical cornerbacks, as evidenced by their ability to release Antoine Winfield before the season began. Brandon Browner is out Sunday because of injury, but Vikings receivers will still have their hands full getting clean releases off the line of scrimmage. "We're trying to have the scout team emulate their style and their techniques so we can be prepared on Sunday," Musgrave said on Thursday. "It's something that we know is coming. We want to do our best against it. It's proven to be very successful."

  • Leave it to Jared Allen to turn a serious question about Darrell Bevell's qualities as a potential head coach into a conversation about Allen and Bevell attending a Taylor Swift concert together.

    "Just me and Bevell creeping out," Allen joked. "No, I had my wife with me and he had his kids with him.

    "We went to a Taylor Swift concert together, which was awkward. I thought I was at like a Hannah Montana concert for a while. Like, what is going on, here? My wife and I were like, do you think we need to leave? There was like spirit fingers and choreographed dances. I was in the wrong place."

    Allen said it was like a tween concert, but also attended a Rascal Flatts concert with Bevell, which seems a bit more normal for a modern-day odd couple.

  • Bengals WR A.J. Green has joined a list that has only former Vikings WR Randy Moss and John Jefferson on it. Green now has 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first three NFL seasons.

  • Lions WR Calvin Johnson just passed Moss for second-most receiving yards in a player's first 100 games. Moss had 8,680; Johnson has 8,740 through 100 games. Lance Alworth is the all-time leader in that category with 9,019 yards in 100 games.

  • NFL offenses are getting more offensive. At the midpoint of the season, games are averaging 479.1 passing yards per game, which is on pace to be the most of any season in NFL history (462.2 in 2012). The league average passer rating (86.5) is also on pace for an all-time high (85.6 in 2012).

  • The last time the Vikings and Seahawks met (Nov. 4, 2012), Seattle QB Russell Wilson threw three touchdowns and had a 127.3 rating and Marshawn Lynch rushed for 124 yards and touchdown.

    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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