Yes, the offense has not set the world on fire this season. This FanPost will show why everything is OK, and we need to stick with Bill Musgrave and Leslie Frazier's plan for our offense.
This is the situation Musgrave inherited.
First and foremost, the Vikings had to establish an offensive identity. In the past, it took Brett Favre having his career year to give our offense an identity. Without Favre's '09 level of stellar play and game management at the quarterback position, the old offensive system normally did not work great.
Musgrave had to introduce a new offensive system. The old system had problems including the verbosity. It took about 10 seconds to rattle off a play call. In the fast-paced NFL, that is just too long. The old system was integrated with the zone-blocking scheme. The zone scheme did not fit well enough with Vikings personnel, and does not match up with what we want to do, which is pushing the ball forward. The blocking scheme had to change. The Vikings had done very poorly in outdoor games with the Childress version of the West Coast Offense, in part because a natural grass surface disrupts the timing and rhythm required by that offense. The new offensive system works well and is a derivative of that so-called West Coast offense (originally developed by Paul Brown). Due to the lockout-shortened offseason, however, Musgrave had very little time to install the new offensive system.
There was no established starting quarterback. An aging veteran who doesn't seem to care much anymore (McNabb) was brought in, despite never having played in the new Erhardt-Perkins offensive system.
The offensive line blocking scheme had to change from mostly zone to mostly man. Usually a period of adjustment is needed to make it work. Due to the lockout, there was little time for that.
The starting left offensive tackle was waived. In his place a journeyman with lots of "try hard" was signed.
The rock of the offensive line, Hutchinson, has entered the twilight of his career and while still great, can't dominate for all 60 minutes like he used to.
Another veteran of the line, Anthony Herrera, is coming off of an ACL injury last year. It normally takes two years to come back fully after that injury.
This year's offensive line is the weakest part of the offense. As is known, the offensive line is the most important part of any offense. There already have been big signs of life for this offensive line in both run-blocking and pass protection. Every once in a while, they pull off a play that would almost make Bud Grant mist up. They just haven't done so consistently yet. There is also a talented group who are coming up through the ranks. To put it simply, however, we do not have a consistently effective offensive line at this time .
Finally, if Peterson can't find any holes to run through, there are no holes to run through.
While I hoped McNabb could be viable for longer, his lack of motivation sealed it for me. If he dumps the ball off for a three yard gain on 3rd and 15, and we then punt, while trailing by multiple touchdowns, I don't know why he is in there anymore. It's not like McNabb is consistently accurate, either. McNabb has not been competitive enough back there.
Now we are turning the page to a new era. Ponder takes the helm at quarterback. With Ponder, we will get beaten by the world champs this Sunday, but at least we will have a quarterback who is trying hard. Ponder is going to have a trial by fire on Sunday afternoon. He and the offense are ready. It is the right decision to start Ponder.
That said, Musgrave could make some big improvements right now.
Harvin is mostly a running back with hands, albeit a great running back with great hands. That makes him a perfect slot receiver. He is not good at lining up far on the outside and running a complicated route and picking up 14 yards on a catch and then toe tapping out of bounds like a Cris Carter would do. Harvin catches the ball, makes some moves, and bangs it. Yet, Musgrave has been asking him to be Cris Carter.
It's not bad for Harvin to hone his route-running skills. It can only make him better. That said, Harvin is most effective in the slot. That does not mean he can't go deep. He certainly can go deep and he should go deep sometimes from the slot.
We should convert our offense to a mostly three-receiver set, with Harvin in the slot and Peterson in the backfield.
The fact that Peterson is not the best pass-blocker or receiving running back yet is completely irrelevant. Peterson has very good hands. He just hasn't learned how to pass-block yet because our old coaches never instructed him correctly on that. Peterson needs more experience coming out of the backfield and catching a dump-off pass from the quarterback. With his good hands, Peterson can do that well when Musgrave finally asks him to do that.
Ponder should look for Peterson as a passing option early and often. I am not talking about screen passes.
Peterson needs to be in the game for all three downs. If we substitute Booker or Gerhart to give Peterson a rest, they should come in for typically three downs at a time.
Using Harvin at running back also is a good idea. At that time, Peterson could play the slot. This can create match-up problems for the defense as Harvin and Peterson can keep the defense guessing as to who will be in what part of the formation.
Peterson is at his best running when the offense spreads out the defense. So do it with three receivers, a tight end, and Peterson in the backfield.
If Musgrave feels we don't have the receivers to do that, he is wrong. Shiancoe and Rudolph can line up as wide receivers and catch passes. Between Harvin in the slot, Shiancoe/Rudolph, and Jenkins or Aromashodu, or whoever there are three receivers there easily.
If you want keep the tight end in to block, we have a great option there, Kleinsasser.
All kinds of things can be done from this personnel package, including the reverses that Musgrave has done well with. After some success, the defense will be on its heels, Then the blocking tight end (Kleinsasser) gets thrown a pass or is set up on a screen.
In the long run, we want Rudolph to learn how to block and catch, so that he becomes a truly versatile tight end like he can be. We want a true deep threat and a true route-running possession-type receiver to complement Harvin at wide receiver. We want our offensive line to solidify over time, with better play and if it becomes necessary, upgraded personnel. We want our starting quarterback to get experience, and nothing is better experience than learning from mistakes. It's going to happen.The only question is if Ponder and the Vikings learn from mistakes and how they respond to them.
Based on what I have seen so far, Musgrave is doing the right things. Over time our offense will get better. We are on the right path under Musgrave and Frazier. With Ponder starting, at last every Viking will be heading in one direction on game day, toward victory.