Bye-week grades: Offense and coaching

In a premature midseason report, the Vikings offense has made some strides, especially in the passing game, giving mostly better than average grades. But there are still some concerns on offense, and there is the perception of a too-conservative coaching staff. We hand out the offensive and coaching grades today.

Although the bye week comes one week before the official midway point of the Vikings season, it is time to hand out our midseason grades for the Vikings by positions – where they have been strong and where they have been deficient.

Today we look at the offense and coaching. Tomorrow we grade out the defense and special teams (you can only imagine what that grade is going to be). If the Vikings are going to win the NFC North, which currently looks to be the only way a division team will make the postseason, they will have to improve the things they currently aren't doing well and continue on the track where they have been successful.

QUARTERBACK – Say what you will about Gus Frerotte's age and his four-interception game against the Bears last week, but the quarterback position was clearly upgraded from when Frerotte took over in Week 3. At the time, the Vikings pass offense under Tarvaris Jackson was so scaled back and homogenized that defenses didn't have to fear the deep ball. T-Jack wasn't allowed to throw it often and when he did, it typically wasn't very accurate. While Frerotte isn't going to conjure images of Brett Favre or John Elway, his ability to incorporate Bernard Berrian, Bobby Wade and Visanthe Shiancoe into big-play mode has been an enormous positive over what we were getting all too used to seeing with Jackson at the wheel. As it was at the beginning of the season, quarterback is one of the weakest links on the team. But, in comparison to where it was after two games and where it is now, it has improved significantly in many aspects. GRADE: C-minus.

RUNNING BACK – There has been no sophomore jinx for Adrian Peterson. While his average per carry (4.5 yards), is about a yard-and-a-half less than it was last year at this time, he is the focus of every defense the Vikings play and it has shown. Still, he has topped 100 yards four times already this season and showed he can still make a huge play out of nothing with his long TD run against the Bears last week. There may be some concerns about the number of carries he has – currently at 151, which is approximately 22 carries a game. Chester Taylor is averaging fewer than six carries a game, but he had his most productive games in the last couple, so expect to see him used more. Fullback has been little short of disastrous with the wasted signing of Thomas Tapeh, who was released earlier this month. The Vikings haven't had much in the way of production from the position. Maurice Hicks has been used in the return game only. GRADE: A-minus.

WIDE RECEIVER – Initially, there were a lot of people skeptical about Berrian's persistent toe injury that he claimed may not be 100 percent all year. But, in recent weeks, that hasn't been a question or an issue. He has become the most productive wide receiver the Vikings have had since Randy Moss and has played at an elite level. He is averaging 18.5 yards per reception and is on pace for more than 1,100 receiving yards. He has become the No. 1 receiver the Vikings have needed and lacked since the Moss trade. The entire offense may have been different if Sidney Rice had been healthy. Rice has been sidelined for much of the season due to injury and has been almost a complete non-factor. Wade has picked up much of that slack, leading the team with 30 receptions. Aundrae Allison has surpassed Robert Ferguson as the third option at wide receiver (with Rice out), but has just nine catches to show for it. This position could be much stronger is Rice returns healthy and at full speed. But, for a position that has been one of the team's primary weaknesses in recent years, it is now slightly above average. GRADE: B-minus.

TIGHT END – For the first year-and-a-month of his Vikings career, Shiancoe was viewed more as a liability than a positive. His numerous drops, especially in the end zone, had some speculating his days with the Vikings could be numbered. But he has made some big plays recently and has proved to be a downfield threat, averaging 13.1 yards per reception and scoring three TDs to tie with Berrian for the team lead. The strength of the Vikings TE corps is its blocking ability. Shiancoe is an accomplished run blocker when asked to do so, as is Jim Kleinsasser. Garrett Mills has yet to pan out as a legitimate receiving threat due in large part to a series of minor injuries that have stunted his progress, but there is hope remaining that he can contribute on offense as he does on special teams. GRADE: C.

OFFENSIVE LINE – This grade could be viewed as incomplete, since Bryant McKinnie was gone for the first games and the Vikings were 1-3 in those games. Artis Hicks proved his value by holding up surprisingly well against a Murderer's Row of defensive ends he had to face during that opening stretch. Steve Hutchinson is rock solid as always, and Matt Birk has graded out very well from week to week. The problems have been on the right side. Anthony Herrera has played above average at right guard, but hasn't been dominating or blowing holes open for the running game. Ryan Cook has struggled badly at times at right tackle and needs to get much more consistent. As the season wears on, the Vikings expect their O-line to be the leaders in dictating their offensive will to opponents. If they expect to make the playoffs, this group will have to be more consistent and polished than what we've seen. GRADE: B-minus.

COACHING – In the NFL, if the perception is that a coach doesn't have control of his team or the players continue to make the same mistakes week after week, it is a reflection on the coach. Brad Childress has gone against many of the things that he did just a year ago. He benched Jackson after just two games, a vast departure from a coach who maintained that Jackson would quickly develop into a franchise quarterback. That same stubborn streak led to the team not signing a veteran that would be given a legitimate chance to compete for the starting job. Frerotte knew he was a backup, as did Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger last season. The abandonment of the Jackson Experiment was ill-timed – although few fans are complaining. Childress' apparent lack of confidence in his offense has been on display often this season, as the team gets into field goal range and gets conservative – giving the impression that the team is satisfied with three points instead of pushing harder to take shots at getting seven. The inability to cover punts and kicks has to come back on the coaching staff, especially in light of the odd coaching choices to pooch kick against the Bears that gave Chicago a short field three times (they scored on all three drives). His lack of confidence in the ability of his players to execute has to be viewed as troubling and much different from what we've been used to with Childress in his first two seasons. GRADE: D-plus.

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