The Minnesota Vikings offense looked much different last Sunday against the Detroit Lions. After two weeks of stagnating – scoring one touchdown in each game and that not coming until the game was out of reach in the fourth quarter – the Vikings showed signs of life last week and more in keeping with the offense that did its part in the team’s 5-0 start.
One of the players who has seen his role change under the new-look approach by offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is tight end Kyle Rudolph. While the play calling looked different than what Vikings fans were used to seeing, Rudolph said that the plays have all been in the playbook for the Vikings, they’re just getting used more now out of necessity.
“It’s all stuff that we’ve had in the playbook and have already done at one time or another over the last three years here,” Rudolph said. “When we’ve had hard times protecting Sam, these are things that we can do to take some pressure off of our protection and get the ball out of his hand quicker.”
The change in offense has been forced by a revolving door on the offensive line, which has seen four of its starting five from Week 1 lost at some point to injury. The exception is Joe Berger. As the Vikings have patched together an offensive line to protect Sam Bradford, players like Rudolph have had to sacrifice their offensive skills to be blockers protecting the quarterback.
Rudolph understood before the Vikings’ recent struggles that, if he was going to be an every-down tight end, he was going to have to become a better blocker. He dedicated himself last year and during the offseason to do that and he’s glad he did. If not, he could be watching more than playing because the tight end position has morphed over the last month.
“We’re obviously in a lot more protection helping out the tackles,” Rudolph said. “We’re chipping our way out a lot, so more is being asked of us in protection rather than running downfield routes. I feel like I do more of that now than I do receiving. If I want to stay on the field, that’s what I have to do well, because we’re using our tight ends much more as blockers than receivers, which is an adjustment we have to make to help the offense work better.”
While Rudolph’s contribution stretching the seam down the middle as a receiver has been largely curtailed, he fully understands why his role has been transformed into more of a glorified blocker.
“It doesn’t help us if I’m running deep routes trying to catch passes downfield and we can’t protect Sam,” Rudolph said. “We need to keep Sam on his feet, so I’m forced to do a lot more in protection than running routes and catching passes.”
Despite his personal change in role, Rudolph is buying into the idea that, at the current time, he can help the team more as a blocker than a receiver. It may not help his offensive numbers, but it serves a purpose.
Last week, Rudolph caught a touchdown, but his stat line was the bizarre 1-1-1 – one catch for one yard and one touchdown.
But, as he sees it, the team turned a corner last week. They didn’t cash in as often as they expected or wanted, but the offense was moving consistently for the first time since the team’s bye week.
“We did a lot of things better last week than we had the past couple of weeks, which is a good sign for us,” Rudolph said. “We got first downs and moved the ball pretty well. We just had a couple critical situations with penalties and a turnover on downs. We thought we left at least 14, maybe 17 points out there and if we get those points, it’s a completely different game.”
The Vikings have struggled badly, especially on offense, since the bye week in which they were the talk of the NFL. Many have speculated that the Vikings are going to crash and burn in the second half of the season, but, like many of his teammates, such talk irritates Rudolph because the Vikings still control their own playoff destiny and the players are convinced that they can pull out of their tailspin and come into Washington mad that they didn’t close out the Lions as they should have.
At times this season, the defense hasn’t held up its end of the bargain. Many more times than that, the offense has struggled. But the NFL is the ultimate team game and the Vikings are convinced that they can finish strong and repeat as NFC North Division champions.
“We’re all in this as a team – offense, defense and special teams,” Rudolph said. “We all need to do our part. We haven’t been getting that consistently, but we know we can. We had a couple of rough patches last year and got through it and back to playing Vikings football. I’m confident we can get back to that and it all starts this week with Washington.”