The task in front of offensive coordinator Norv Turner is imposing – from the Minnesota Vikings’ receivers leading the NFL in dropped passes, to the pass protection failures that contributed to allowing eight sacks on Sunday against the Detroit Lions, to a combination of quarterbacks that have failed to throw a touchdown since Week 2, to a running game without its former NFL MVP in Adrian Peterson.
“When you’re struggling a little bit you can withdraw a little bit. We can’t withdraw,” Turner said Thursday. “We’ve got to be aggressive. We’ve got to go. I’m watching New England in the game last week. In the first quarter and a half they didn’t score. They had three-and-outs, they had a missed field goal and they had two times they were in third-and-15. It doesn’t always go exactly the way you want. You’ve got to fight through the negative things and when you have opportunities to make plays, you have to make them.”
The Vikings have had some opportunities. But for a variety of reasons they have struggled in numerous areas. One of their hopes rests in perhaps finally finding some continuity at the quarterback position.
Veteran Matt Cassel entered the season as the starter but made it only 2¼ games before his season was over with broken bones in his foot. Rookie Teddy Bridgewater took over in Week 4 with great success – throwing for 317 yards – but he couldn’t make the start the following week because of a sprained ankle. Christian Ponder struggled in his 2014 debut and Bridgewater returned with similar issues.
Turner said he can’t remember a time in his 30-year NFL coaching career that his offense has gone four-plus games without a passing touchdown. He is hoping that Bridgewater will learn from his mistakes last week and find a rhythm in starting his second straight game Sunday at the Buffalo Bills.
“Continuity is critical. For Teddy to have the chance to play and having played last week and then look at it and work on the things we’ve got to improve on, that will be great for him,” Turner said.
Turner believes Bridgewater has missed three or four opportunities for touchdown passes and one of those came at the end of the Vikings’ first drive on Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Bridgewater drove the Vikings to the Detroit 15-yard line, but on first-and-10 his throw to Cordarrelle Patterson in the end zone was intercepted by safety Glover Quin.
All week, the Vikings had practiced that play anticipating that Quin would follow Greg Jennings on a route underneath Patterson, but Quin came off Jennings and Bridgewater missed that adjustment. He admitted he should have gone for a different option.
Turner said Bridgewater needs to trust what he sees and “turn the ball loose.”
After that interception, the sacks started to pile up. The Vikings’ next three drives were ended by third-down sacks. All four of Detroit’s sacks in the first half came on third down. Detroit added four more sacks in the second half, with the final three coming in the last four minutes of the game, when the Vikings were trailing by 14 points and the need to throw the ball was obvious.
The Bills have a similar defensive front and pressure packages at the Lions, Turner said, so Bridgewater and the pass protection’s ability to rebound will be critical. Coaches have insisted all week that the pass protection breakdowns were a combination of the offensive line, the running backs, the quarterback not getting rid of the ball quickly enough and receivers not getting separation quickly enough. The Vikings responded with their most physical practice since the preseason on Wednesday, and head coach Mike Zimmer has become more involved on the offensive side of the ball.
“I have 100 percent confidence in Norv Turner and the offensive staff. That doesn’t mean that I won’t have more of a point of emphasis with some of the players offensively,” Zimmer said on Monday. “… I do believe players, if they understand you’re serious about it and you put some extra effort into it and some point of emphasis, they will respond. I’ll be with the offense a little bit more, probably.
Zimmer, a defensive-minded head coach, was paying particular attention to the offensive line on Wednesday.
“Mike’s been involved (with the offense) from the get-go. I told you guys a long time ago that to me this is about the Minnesota Vikings offense,” Turner said. “Everyone from the coaching standpoint has involvement. Mike and I have communicated from the minute we got here in terms of style and what we want to do. We’re always communicating about personnel. We’re always communicating about things that give defenses problems. He sees it from a defensive mindset. I think he’s a great resource for me and our offensive staff.”
But that “style” that Turner and Zimmer have anticipated had to be altered after the season-opening win over the St. Louis Rams when Peterson was indicted on charges of child abuse in Texas. Suddenly, the offense built to run the ball had to change somewhat to account for a lack of experienced production at running back.
“I told you guys when we got going after the preseason it was exciting to have him a part of it and I think you saw in the Rams games there are things that looked like they were going be really exciting,” Turner said. “I think those, when you have the ability to run the ball and the threat to run the ball, it helps the quarterback. It certainly helps a young quarterback. But we know where we’re at and we’ve got to make this thing go.”