Envisioning the New Viking Offense

Now that the draft is over, and the last of the pieces to the Vikings offensive puzzle have been laid out, let's take some time to try to put those pieces together and see what it looks like. Let's start with the first corner piece- Norv Turner and his offensive scheme.

The Air Coryell Offense

Norv is one of the older disciples of the Air Coryell offense established by Don Coryell with the Chargers in the late 70s. The essence of the Air Coryell offense is a marriage between a mid-to-deep passing game and a power run game. Some examples of variants of the Air Coryell offense were the Chargers in the late 70s, the Redskins under Joe Gibbs in the 80s, the Cowboys in the early 90s, the Rams with Kurt Warner in the late 90s, and the Chargers again in the late 00s. All of those were some of the most high-powered offenses in the league over the past few decades, and featured pro-bowl, if not HOF players at most skill positions.

The Air Coryell offense differs from the West Coast Offense (WCO) the Vikings have used for many years now in several ways:

  • Air Coryell is a stretch the field vertically offense, predicated on the complementary effects of throwing deep and running the football, forcing the defense to cover the entire field.
  • The WCO is a ball-control offense, using high percentage passing to open the run and deeper pass game
  • Air Coryell receivers often run intermediate-to-long routes, stretching the field vertically through seams
  • WCO receivers often run short-to-intermediate routes, stretching the field laterally as much as vertically using slant and curl routes
  • Air Coryell QBs take more 5- and 7-step drops
  • WCO QBs take more 3- and 5-step drops
  • Air Coryell is typically committed to the power running game
  • The WCO typically relies more on the receiving skills of backs out of the backfield
  • Pass protection is more important in Air Coryell, as the longer routes require more time to develop
  • Play terminology tends to be more complicated in the WCO than in Air Coryell
  • Air Coryell tends to use more motion to identify coverage and beat man/press coverage
  • The WCO tends to use more bubble screens
  • Both Air Coryell and the WCO rely on timing and rhythm to operate most effectively
  • Both Air Coryell and the WCO use option routes for receivers to use based on coverage
  • Air Coryell also requires more talented players at the skill positions, particularly speedy receivers
  • The WCO was developed out of the necessity to operate with less talented players, particularly receivers, but requires more of a 'connection' between QB and receivers
  • Air Coryell is more suited to poised pocket passers who allow a play to develop
  • The WCO is more suited to mobile QBs who make quick decisions
  • Air Coryell attempts to beat you with speed and power
  • The WCO attempts to beat you with finesse and precision

One perhaps obvious take-away from the differences between the two systems is that Air Coryell is more demanding of talent across the board- QB, WRs, TE, RB, O-line- it all has to be there. But when it is, it is probably the best system to take advantage of it.

Norv Turner's Version of Air Coryell

Norv's version of Air Coryell is not as aggressive as the original. It is also less complicated. Norv's version uses more intermediate and sideline routes, and play action than the original. He may not always send out as many receivers in lieu of pass protection as well. His version is run mostly out of a pro-set (2 backs, 1 TE) which makes the run more compelling. He also does not use as extensive a playbook as some other practitioners.

Norv typically does not have his QBs audible much, nor does he use a no-huddle much. He does tend to use a lot of players during the course of a game- perhaps to help keep them fresh. Greg Jennings saying that 'everybody is going to have a chance to showcase what they can do' is a testament to the latter.

Scheme-Fit with Vikings Players

An Air Coryell offense would have been a disaster in Minnesota immediately post-Favre, even with an above average QB at the helm. The Vikings simply did not have the receivers, nor probably the offensive line, to make it work. As it was, Musgrave's WCO was a better fit for the personnel the Vikings had on the field.

Those high-powered Air Coryell offenses of the past were loaded with talent. Dan Fouts/Charlie Joiner/Wes Chandler/John Jefferson/Kellen Winslow/Chuck Muncie in San Diego in the late 70s; Joe Theismann/John Riggins/Art Monk/Gary Clark/Ricky Sanders in Washington; Troy Aikman/Emmit Smith/Michael Irvin/Jay Novacek in Dallas; Kurt Warner/Marshall Faulk/Tory Holt/Isaac Bruce/Ricky Proehl in St Louis in '99-01. Drew Brees/Philip Rivers/LaDainian Tomlinson/Vincent Jackson/Antonio Gates/Darren Sproles in San Diego in the late 00s.

The key elements of a Norv Turner offense, in addition to a descent QB, include:

1) A big #1 WR

2) A power run game

3) Solid offensive line

4) Good pass-catching tight-end

Enter Kyle Rudolph, Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright, Jerome Felton,- and optimistically and most importantly - Teddy Bridgewater. Not to mention Matt Kalil, an improved John Sullivan, Phil Loadholt, Brandon Fusco- and promising new addition David Yankey.

Years of upgrades and improvements to the Vikings offense now put it in position to run a more high-powered offensive scheme better suited to realize its potential. Let's take a look at how each player may fit in Norv Turner's offense.

Teddy Bridgewater

Bridgewater will be the lynchpin of the new offense under Norv Turner. It's worth mentioning that it was Turner who was pushing hardest to draft Bridgewater, as he thought Bridgewater the most impressive of all the QBs in the draft.

While at Louisville, Bridgewater consistently demonstrated a core set of skills needed to be a successful QB in any offensive scheme at the NFL level. His elite accuracy, poise in the pocket/awareness, ability to quickly work through progressions and look off DBs, extend a play when needed, keep his eyes down-field, and make good decisions with the football will all serve him well in Norv's offense- or any other for that matter.

Arm strength. That is often said to be the most important attribute of an Air Coryell QB. Which is true to an extent, but also misleading. A QB in Turner's Air Coryell scheme needs to make all the throws demanded of him- many of which are deeper routes or can be out routes to the wide side of the field- and do so accurately. Bridgewater is described as having above average arm strength, and can make all the NFL throws, but has some trouble with deep ball accuracy.

But there are some fallacies about QB arm strength, most of which Norv Turner understands having evaluated Bridgewater. He learned from Bill Walsh:

functional arm strength isn't always about RPMs. For instance, he said, look at Joe Montana's throws. Whereas some quarterbacks throw rockets that peter off when they get to the receiver, Montana's passes always look like they are gaining ground. They carry through the receiver. Walsh told him that quality is more important than sheer arm strength.

As much as he looked for it, Turner did not find Bridgewater to have insufficient arm strength. He also learned something from his experience with Drew Brees- who didn't have a strong arm immediately upon entering the league under Turner:

What Turner learned after selecting Drew Brees is that quarterbacks sometimes physically mature after they get into the league. They can even improve their arm strength. It happened with Brees. The Vikings talked about it in one meeting, and made note of the fact that Bridgewater is only 21 years old.

Turner also learned something about the arm strength needed to operate his offensive scheme from his experience with Brad Johnson:

The perception is that Norv Turner needs a quarterback with a cannon in order to operate his system effectively -- Troy Aikman or Kerry Collins.

What is true is he likes to push the ball downfield. What is not true is that he needs a quarterback who can throw it into the upper deck. The reality is Turner has spent many coaching hours trying to get quarterbacks to throw with less velocity so they give their receivers a better chance to catch the ball.

Turner thought back to the 1999 season, when he was the head coach of the Redskins. He had traded for Brad Johnson, who was considered to have average arm strength at best. His arm probably was diminished that year, as the 31-year old was coming off knee surgery. Yet Johnson threw for 4,005 yards in 1999, more than any other Turner quarterback ever except Philip Rivers. He averaged 7.7 yards per attempt, fifth best in the NFL. He was named to the Pro Bowl. And the Redskins won the NFC East.

What Johnson had was a quick delivery. As Turner watched the tape of Bridgewater, he saw the same thing.

I think these comments and Turner's experience developing QBs in his system make it clear that Bridgewater has the arm strength to operate Turner's offense very well.

At one of his first press conferences as Viking's offensive coordinator, when asked about the qualities he's looking for in a young QB in the draft, he emphasized accuracy, not arm strength.

In terms of deep ball accuracy, this is something just about every QB coming out of college is labelled as needing improvement. Bridgewater's deep ball accuracy was on par with Derek Carr's, who most consider to have the strongest arm of all the QBs in the draft. In Louisville, Bridgewater typically had the deep route as a secondary read, and sometimes appeared to change his mechanics-often with the pocket breaking down- when making a deep throw. Undoubtedly Turner will work with Bridgewater to clean-up his mechanics- which are otherwise very good. Reports are he and Scott Turner have already been doing so. It certainly is not without precedent for a QB to clean up his mechanics under NFL coaching. Bridgewater being touted as also very coachable would seem to indicate this issue can be resolved without a great deal of time or difficulty.

Bridgewater operated a pro-style west coast offense (WCO) in Louisville. The timing, accuracy and his ability to 'throw open' receivers he learned and demonstrated in that system will be equally valued in Turner's Air Coryell system. Also, and rather unusually for both a college QB and in a WCO, Bridgewater was given Peyton Manning authority on the field to audible and change protections- even as a freshman.

I view Bridgewater's ability to do that effectively as a great asset- and one that could help make him elite as it did for Peyton Manning. However, I don't see that happening under Norv Turner. As I mentioned above, Turner is not known for allowing his QBs much freedom when it comes to calling audibles at the line. Perhaps that is not a big issue initially, as Bridgewater may be focused on other things first, but when he is ready, I think it makes sense to give Bridgewater that authority as he has demonstrated he is very good at using it effectively.

Being able to dial up a Bang-8 off of play-action, for example, where two receivers- typically slot and TE- run skinny posts, when an opposing defense decides to put a safety in the box to stop the run, would come in handy in Turner's Air Coryell offense. So, I hope in time Turner will be flexible enough to allow Bridgewater to audible if he continues to show the exceptional ability to read and understand defenses as he did at the college level.

Overall, Bridgewater's excellent core skill set make him an excellent fit in Norv's offense- but as much could be said for his ability to thrive in a WCO or Erhardt-Perkins system too. Turner's system may be a little easier to pick up than a full-blown WCO or Erhardt-Perkins system, which undoubtedly will allow Bridgewater to hasten his development in mastering the system and moving on to more advanced aspects of reading defenses, etc.

Adrian Peterson

Having written a lot about Bridgewater, coming in as a rookie, I'm not going to write much about AP. He's the power running game in Turner's Air Coryell system in Minnesota. Perfect fit. I imagine Norv will be aware of AP's carries per game, and seek to have him average around 20 carries/game. That is more a function of where AP is in his career than scheme, however. Turner also likes to use RBs as a receiving threat in his system, and I expect AP will feature as a RB receiver as well. AP can serve both as a decoy and a real threat in that capacity, as defenses will always be focused on where he is on the field. I don't expect him to have more receptions than in the past, however, but I would not be surprised if his YAC in Turner's offense increases as opposing defenses are spread deeper from the LOS.

Jerome Felton

The FB role in Turner's offense includes more plays as a receiver, in addition to the primary blocking role Felton has done so well in the past. Felton may want to work out his route-running and receiving skills this off-season as he learns the new offense.

Jerick McKinnon

McKinnon undoubtedly was taken to be a 'Darren Sproles' type player in Norv Turner's offense- which includes a whole series of 'Scat' plays designed for a speedy back running routes out of the backfield. Clearly their measurables when they attended the Combine are similar- with Sproles a bit faster, and McKinnon notably stronger.

Jerick McKinnon

Darren Sproles





209 lbs.

187 lbs.

40 yard dash



20 yard shuttle



3 Cone Drill



Vertical Jump



Broad Jump



Bench Press (225lbs)

32 reps

23 reps

McKinnon is clearly a phenomenal athlete, and was a multi-position player in college. Turner most likely wants him to focus on a scat-back type role- perhaps even a freak H-back if he proves strong enough and can block. This is a guy that would function as a receiving back, could also take some carries to spell AP, and generally be a wild card in Turner's offense- similar to Sproles in San Diego. My guess is he may also get a shot a punt/kick return duty as well. But he will need to improve himself as a football player to get to or exceed Sproles' production.

Kyle Rudolph/Rhett Ellison

Kyle (and Rhett) could both be significant beneficiaries of Turner's offense. With a focus on intermediate and deeper routes, Rudolph should be able to operate more in space than was the case in Musgrave's WCO. In his Pro Bowl MVP performance, for what it is worth, Rudolph ran deeper routes and proved he could do so very well. I think Rudolph was not as well served with the shorter routes he was generally asked to run in Musgrave's WCO, and also because he was more of a focus in an offense not known for throwing many deep balls. I would expect Rudolph's production to jump this year if he's healthy- and with good QB play. One area of focus for Kyle in Norv's offense may be on reading coverages. Many/most of the TE routes in Norv's offense are option routes based on coverage- which Kyle may not have run as much in the past. I would also anticipate Rhett Ellison getting a few more snaps and opportunities to show his receiving skills in a rotation with Rudolph.

Cordarrelle Patterson

CP will undoubtedly emerge as the #1 WR in Norv's system, although Norv has already designed many plays for him that may very well emphasize his skill set over a specific receiver position. In any case, Patterson's speed and size make him an ideal #1 WR in Turner's Air Coryell offense. He may very well have a break-out year in a system well suited to his strengths.

Greg Jennings

While Jennings may be more of a WCO type receiver, clearly he still has the speed and smarts to do very well in an Air Coryell system- particularly Norv's variety- where his excellent route running will be more valued.

Jerome Simpson

Simpson is also more of Air Coryell receiver- relying more on speed than finesse or route running- and I expect he will get a fair amount of playing time in Turner's offense. Norv likes to involve a lot of players in his offense, so if Simpson can prove his worth, he'll have plenty of opportunities for production.

Jarius Wright

Wright can also thrive in Norv's offense- much more so than a WCO. Wright's speed is his best quality at this point, and while not a big target, as a slot receiver with 4.4 speed he will always be a dangerous threat on vertical routes. Both Wright and Simpson are good candidates to go in motion- something Air Coryell uses regularly, as they don't have the size/skill getting off press coverage as Patterson and Jennings.

Offensive Line

Turner has favored power run blocking, which is typical for Air Coryell offensive schemes. Offensive line coach Jeff Davidson introduced zone blocking when he was named Carolina's OC in 2007, but has utilized multiple blocking schemes with the Vikings under Bill Musgrave, with a lot of power running. However, I would not expect much use of the jumbo packages that Musgrave used a fair amount- with 2 TEs, FB and RB.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Vikings use primarily power run- and zone-pass blocking this year. The two schemes share some similar concepts, and the Viking's offensive line has experience with both. Drafting David Yankey- a big guard who can pull very well- is a perfect fit for power run blocking.

The rest of the offensive line - Kalil, Sullivan, Fusco and Loadholt - have all shown they can play at a pro-bowl level. It would be nice to see that demonstrated consistently this year, with Kalil returning to his rookie year form, Fusco confirming the rise in his level of play last year, and Loadholt and Sullivan turning in solid years again.

Perhaps a simplification of the blocking schemes, if that is what happens this year, will make it easier for this very able group to do their best on the field, and the upgrade in talent with Yankey more than off-set the lack of playing time together.

Norv's Playbook

The link above is to an alleged 1992 Cowboys playbook, when Norv Turner was OC. The first pages of notes list Ernie Zampese (Turner's mentor and an architect of the Air Coryell offense) as OC- which he was in 1994- so those notes could be from that time. Looking through the playbook, which undoubtedly has been changed/updated, but still will likely reflect the offense Norv is installing in Minnesota, there are several key take-aways:

1) The more prominent role the TE plays in Norv's system- particularly as it relates to down-field passing. The TE running an option #8 route (skinny-post) is a frequent element in Turner's passing plays.

2) Just about every play is run out of the pro-set

3) Outside receivers nearly always run deeper go/post/out/corner option routes

4) There are typically 4-5 route patterns on every pass play (i.e. maximum possible)

5) RBs run primarily outlet patterns, but there are some pick and post routes there too. There is also a 'scat' and 'scram' series of plays for a speedy RB out of the backfield- perhaps a Jerick McKinnon- although AP could certainly feature there as well.

6) Power running predominates the ground game- as you would expect.

Here is a good article on some typical Air Coryell plays as well.


With competent QB play, Norv Turner's Air Coryell offense looks to be a good scheme fit for the Vikings offensive players. The key elements all seem to be present:

- Solid pass-catching Tight-End: Kyle Rudolph - Check

- Big, solid #1 WR - Cordarrelle Patterson - Check

- Solid offensive line - Matt Kalil/David Yankey/John Sullivan/Brandon Fusco/Phil Loadholt - Check

- Power running game - Adrian Peterson, Jerome Felton - Check

When those elements are present, recent history with Norv Turner's offense has shown that translates into a top point scoring offense. When all of those elements are not there, the results have proven mediocre:

Going back further, all the way to the San Diego Chargers of the late 70s, would only confirm this chart. Looking at how long the elements of a typical Air Coryell offense have remained in place, history would suggest there is about a 3 year window to achieve success.

Let's hope the Viking's are able to harness the potential of their offensive players and scheme- and that Mike Zimmer & Co. is able to turn around the defense very soon.

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.

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