Stick to the Script

The Vikings, like a lot of West Coast teams under the Bill Walsh family tree, have made a habit of scripting the first 10-15 plays before games. After that, however, the Vikings offense has been both predictable and unsuccessful. Maybe they should consider scripting an entire game the way they do the first drive.

Fans have tried to figure out the Vikings inconsistent and generally non-productive offense all season and have been left with more questions than answers. Only twice this year have they scored more than 20 points in a game – a 26-17 win over Detroit in which the Vikings defense scored two of its three touchdowns and a 31-13 win over Seattle in which the defense scored one touchdown.

Offensively, the Vikings are the definition of middle of the road – ranked 16th overall out of 32 teams. The passing game is rated 14th, the rushing game 17th. But the stat that really counts – overall scoring – has the Vikings 27th, with 36 of their 167 points being scored by defense or special teams. Take those points away and the Vikings offense has averaged just 13.1 points a game.

So where is the problem? Perhaps it's in the predictability of the offense. On the first drive of games, the Vikings have scored eight times – accounting for almost 24 percent of the total point production from the offense. On those series, coach Brad Childress says the Vikings pre-script their plays, they have shown a lot of balance. In those 10 games, the Vikings have 38 plays on first downs – rushing 19 times and passing 19 times. They have kept defenses off balance and have produced points on 80 percent of those drives. After that, however, the news doesn't look nearly as good.

In the opening drives of games, the Vikings have scored 80 percent of the time. In their second drive of games, when apparently the plays are no longer scripted, the Vikings haven't scored once. In fact, the offense has scored points of any kind on consecutive drives just twice all year – in their final drive of the first half and first drive of the second half vs. Washington and in consecutive drives in the second quarter vs. the Packers two weeks ago.

When the plays are decided on the fly, the dropoff in point production is pronounced. After scoring in eight of 10 drives to open games, after that point, the Vikings have scored in just 21 of 81 offensive drives. While their first-drive scoring percentage is 80 percent, the rest of the game it is just 26 percent.

Part of the problem is the predictability of the run on first down. Childress apologists can make the rightful claim that, for the season, the Vikings have 270 plays on first down – 135 of them runs. But, with the Vikings trailing in many of their games in the late going, they've have been forced to abandon the run. After the opening drives of games, which have been a perfect 50-50 blend of run and pass on first down, the Vikings have become quite predictable. Without games vs. the Patriots and Bills, in which the Vikings fell behind and were forced to pass a considerable amount on first downs, after the first drive of the remaining eight games, the Vikings have run the ball 105 times out of 183 opportunities.

Perhaps just as troubling has been the propensity for the Vikings to run on both first and second down and putting themselves in troubling third-down situations. Forty-nine times this year the Vikings have run on both first and second down – five times a game. On nine of those 49 instances, the two rushes have resulted in a first down. Of those scenarios, of the 40 times the Vikings ran on both first and second down and needed a third-down conversion, they made good just 14 times – just 35 percent success. That number is less than the percentage of times the Vikings have run on both first and second down and left the offense facing a third-and-7 or worse (36.7 percent). Of the 18 times the Vikings have faced a third-and-7 or longer because of consecutive runs on first and second down, they've converted third downs just six times.

There are many reasons why the Vikings offense has struggled like few other offenses in the league – conservative playcalling, the lack of a consistent deep threat in the passing game, a quarterback with less than adequate arm strength and a right side of the offensive line that has been beset with injuries and penalties. We knew from the beginning that the Vikings offense wasn't going to be explosive like fans have been used to when Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss were the centerpieces of the offensive show, but the Vikings have become nearly dormant offensively. Perhaps they should use the same formula that has worked on opening drives. Is scripting a game too ridiculous to fathom? Why not come out with a script for different drive scenarios, including ones for drives that start at midfield as opposed to one's own 5-yard line? If it works so well when defenses can get a read on your first drive, why not try to expand on it? The offense probably couldn't get any more ineffective than it already is.

SUNDAY NOTES
* The Cardinals might be just what the Vikings offense is looking for to put some points on the board. Arizona has the 25th rated defense in the league – 18th rushing and 27th passing. The Vikings defense is rated seventh overall in the league – first rushing and 26th vs. the pass.
* Edgerrin James is averaging just 2.9 yards a rush this season and has yet to have a 100-yard game. Despite having the talented James in their backfield, the Cardinals have the worst rush offense in the league.
* James (222) and Chester Taylor (221) are second and third, respectively, in rushing attempts this season behind only Kansas City's Larry Johnson.
* Neil Rackers, who led the league in scoring last year, has just 59 points and is on pace to score just 94 points – 70 less than last year.
* Ryan Longwell has missed just one of 18 field goal attempts inside of 50 yards.
* Brad Johnson and Matt Leinart have two of the three lowest passer ratings of any current NFL starters. The only player sandwiched between Johnson's 73.4 rating and Leinart's 68.1 coming into Week 12 was Denver's Jake Plummer, who it was announced Saturday has been replaced by rookie Jay Cutler.
* Former Viking Adimchobe Echemandu has taken LaMont Jordan's spot on the Raiders roster this week and will be the first backup to new starter Justin Fargas.
* The Cardinals have lost all four of their road games this season and six straight dating back to last year. Since taking over the team, Dennis Green has a record of 3-17 on the road. Seeing as four of the final six games for Arizona are away from home, that doesn't bode well.
* The Vikings have averaged two turnovers a game, while averaging 1.5 takeaways. Their minus-five giveaway/takeaway ratio is 24th in the league. The only teams with worse ratios and winning records are the Seahawks (minus-seven) and the Saints (minus-nine).

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