Musgrave Mixing It Up Well For Vikings Offense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 9, 2012 – 2:48 pm

Second-guessing playcalls and strategy is as much a part of the NFL as tailgating and fantasy football. And that’s okay. The passion from which that second-guessing originates is what drives the popularity of the NFL, and, consequently, a big reason why many coaches and players are compensated handsomely. But win or lose, there are a lot of good offensive coordinators out there.

Well, there’s a pretty good offensive coordinator at Winter Park, too. Bill Musgrave, in his second season with the Vikings, is in a groove right now. His second-year QB (Christian Ponder) is completing 69% of his passes (good for 2nd in the NFL), his best offensive player (Percy Harvin) leads the NFL in all-purpose yardage and is 2nd in the NFL with 38 receptions, and his offensive line is paving the way for Adrian Peterson to average 4.4 yards per carry. The playcalling has been balanced, as only 4 teams have a run-pass play ratio closer to 50%.

There have been speed bumps along the way, such as the game in Detroit where Harvin had just 6 offensive touches for 34 yards and the Vikings didn’t score an offensive TD. But those have been few and far between. Musgrave has been creative in getting Harvin the ball, has put Ponder in position to succeed and has coordinated an offense that has 27 explosive plays (runs of 10+ yards, completions of 20+ yards) and Top 10 rankings in scoring and 1st-down efficiency.

Just as important as finding a way to be explosive while striking a balance, NFL playcallers must know when it’s time to go for the jugular. Musgrave has demonstrated that instinct. Against Detroit late in the 4th quarter, the Vikings were clinging to a 7-point lead and faced a 2nd and 11 from their own 19. Musgrave had a choice: call a run that likely would not result in a 1st down but would tempt the Lions to use their final timeout, or get aggressive and call a pass that could result in a 1st down and even more time coming off the clock. Musgrave chose the latter, and the result was a 27-yard connection from Ponder to Jerome Simpson down the left sideline and, ultimately, the Vikings first road division win since 2009.

Another instance of Musgrave being aggressive came last week against Tennessee. The Vikings led 23-7 and the Titans were looking for a small opening to attempt an improbable comeback. The Vikings faced a 2nd and 5 from the Tennessee 15 with 6:45 to play and the clock running. Obvious run situation, right?

“I had just talked to our coaches on the headset about using the clock [being] more important than a touchdown,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explained after the game. “Then Bill [Musgrave] said, ‘Well we got a touchdown on this play, we can get it’. Okay, call it, and we scored. I turned around and looked at him and said, ‘Good job Bill.’ So much for using clock and running the ball. But it was a great play by Christian [Ponder] and Kyle, and a great job by Bill and the rest of the offensive staff.”

All offensive coordinators – not just Musgrave – take plenty of heat for playcalling. And that’s okay because fans have the right to voice their displeasure. Plus there are times when they’re right.

But when the heat dissipates and the dust settles on analysis of Musgrave’s performance through the first 5 games of 2012, what I see is an offensive coordinator that is mixing it up well.

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Rookie CB Robinson Earning Trust, Playing Time

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 9, 2012 – 6:42 am

Matt Kalil is dominating on a weekly basis at LT, Harrison Smith is reminding Vikings fans what a playmaking safety looks like and Blair Walsh continues to validate the team’s decision to select him in the draft. But there’s another rookie who has been just as impressive to Vikings coaches and scouts – CB Josh Robinson.

The Vikings selection of Robinson last April was notable because the Central Florida product was the fastest timed player at the Combine (clocked a 4.29 in the 40-yard dash). But from the moment the Vikings selected Robinson, Vikings GM Rick Spielman explained he was as enamored with other parts of Robinson’s skill set as he was with his straight line speed.

“Extremely talented athlete,” Spielman conceded to last April. “But when you look at his tape, he has some unique cover skills. He’s more than willing enough to come up in (run) support, too.”

Robinson is proving Spielman prophetic. The 5-10, 199-pound CB has 28 tackles on the season, including 15 in the last two games. Robinson also has 5 pass break-ups (PBUs) already – only 4 Vikings had that many PBUs all of last season. The Vikings pass defense is much improved from a season ago – they’ve improved 13 spots in passing yards allowed and 20 spots in passer rating alloweed – and Robinson is a big reason for the improvement.

The record from last week’s win over Tennessee will show Robinson as a starting CB along with Chris Cook. This does not mean a demotion for Antoine Winfield, but it is another indication of the confidence the Vikings have in their rookie CB.

“I don’t know if that will eventually be the case in 2012,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said of Robinson potentially being a full-time starter at CB. “We know at some point, we’re hoping that Josh develops to the point where he can be our starting corner. That’s why we drafted him when we did. We want him to eventually be a starting corner for us.”

All the talk of Robison seeing more time on the field aside, make no mistake that Winfield is having another solid season. He ranks 2nd on the team in tackles with 41 and is tied for second in tackles for loss (TFLs) with 4.0. Winfield also has one of the team’s two INTs – Robinson has the other. Frazier explained that the Vikings know what they have in the veteran Winfield. The additional playing time for Robinson is about reducing the wear and tear on Winfield while also continuing the steady development of Robinson.

“We know what we’re going to get from Antoine,” Frazier explained. “He’s been playing great ball for us in these first five weeks of the season and we’re going to need him throughout the year. Part of what we’re doing is just trying to take some snaps off of Antoine, along with developing Josh and we’re hoping that Josh continues to come along. He’s been playing well for us.”

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