The NFL is a copycat league; observers talk about it every year. If a team is having success and another team finds a way to stop them, the other teams are going to look to see what happened in that game and use some of the same strategies in their game plans.
That is currently what appears to be happening to the Minnesota Vikings. They started out 7-2, but things seemed to get derailed a bit when they took on the Green Bay Packers in Week 11. The Packers bottled up Adrian Peterson, jumped out to an early lead on offense and controlled the clock. That caused the Vikings to almost abandon the running game as Peterson finished the day with 13 rushes for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Two weeks later, the Seattle Seahawks took the same approach to stifling the Vikings offense and they were able to limit the All-Pro running back to eight carries for 18 yards.
The Vikings know that things are going to have to change if they hope to bounce back and start winning on a consistent basis again, and it all starts with getting the passing game going.
“Every time we go out there on Sundays we know teams, all week they’ve talked about stopping Adrian,” said tight end Kyle Rudolph. “So for us as an offense, we need to figure out a way to become multi-dimensional, so adjust throughout the course of a game. When things aren’t going well in the run game, we need to be able to make plays in the passing game.
“We’ve put that on tape a couple times now that if you stop Adrian you’re going to have a good chance of stopping us offensively and that can’t be the case. We have to be able to be able to win games in different ways offensively.”
When the passing game isn’t going, the first person to usually get blamed is the quarterback, and that is what is happening in Minnesota. Teddy Bridgewater has been taking a lot of heat this season for his lack of production as he is averaging 199.83 passing yards a game.
Players in the locker room, however, say their quarterback isn’t the only one to blame for the lack of a passing attack. Instead, the common answer seems to be that on every pass play there is at least one person out of sync with what everyone else is doing.
Rudolph said that it takes all 11 guys to be able to be successful in the passing game, so if there are people on different pages things likely won’t go the Vikings’ way.
“I just think, as an offense, we’ve got to click on all cylinders,” said wide receiver Charles Johnson. “If there’s one guy messing up, it can mess up the whole play. So offensively we have a lot of plays where everybody’s not doing everything right, so we just got to go in there and fix those.
“Go out there and execute, do what we do. That’s about it. It’s an easy game plan and just, we’ve got to execute better.”
A big part of executing better is making sure the protection is good in front of Bridgewater. Head coach Mike Zimmer touched on the pass protection after Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks when he was asked if the bigger concern was the protection of Bridgewater when the quarterback is not finding people downfield. His response was simply, “Well, the protection doesn’t help.”
Offensive guard Brandon Fusco knows that if the passing game is going to be successful that the line needs to give Bridgewater enough time to find open receivers. If they are attacking downfield and trying to stretch the field, those plays take longer to develop, which means the line has to hold blocks longer.
They all believe that if they give Bridgewater enough time he can make any throw on the field. Protection falls on every offensive player, not just the offensive line.
“I think the protection should be a lot better, make Teddy more comfortable in the pocket, but protection is not just on the offensive line,” Fusco said. “It’s on O-line, running backs, tight ends, receivers, quarterbacks. So it’s a team effort and I think it’s something we’re really going to emphasize on this week.”
There are chances available to them to create big plays, but breakdowns are often getting in the way. A player misses a block, a receiver runs the wrong route, Bridgewater misreads the coverage – there is often something off and until everyone can get on the same page the passing game isn’t likely to be impressive.
“It just seems like right now we have a guy here, a guy there kind of taking turns, or at least that’s what I’ve seen from the tape I’ve watched of last night,” Rudolph said. “It was one guy here or there. We have opportunities to throw the ball down the field, we’re just not getting to them.”