Bevell: Vikings Offense Striving For Balance

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 2, 2010 – 2:05 pm

Since 2006 the Vikings offense has gone through a gradual progression, from productivity as well as mode of productivity. For an illustration of the Vikings gradual improvement in offensive productivity since 2006, check out the chart below…

2006 2007 2008 2009
Points Scored 282 365 379 470
Offensive TD 25 34 37 53
3rd Down Conversion 33.1% 34.5% 39.5% 44.9%
Average Yds. Per Pass 5.4 5.8 6.0 7.1
Punts 94 81 74 73

I don’t have a similar chart to explain the trends in mode of productivity – or in other words, how (running the ball vs. passing the ball) the Vikings have managed to produce on offense. Suffice it to say, the Vikings were a run-heavy offense from 2006-08, but turned into a more pass-heavy attack in 2009.

As the Vikings offense sputtered at times during the first half of 2010, many observers began to wonder and question aloud whether the Vikings offense had progressed into too much of a pass-heavy attack. Leslie Frazier seems to have been wondering the same thing, and he’s emphasized several times since being named interim head coach that he’d like to get back to the Vikings true identity – a great run-stopping defense and a great rushing offense.

“As I said before, we’re at our best when we’re running the ball and stopping the run,” Frazier said on Wednesday. “That’s who we are. That’s our identity.”

That hasn’t been the Vikings offensive identity for much of 2010. Prior to last week’s game against the Washington Redskins, the Vikings passed the ball 57.5% of the time (355 passes in 617 plays from scrimmage) and ran the ball 42.4% of the time (262 runs). Against Washington in Frazier’s first game at the helm, though, the rushing identity came back. The Vikings ran 62.2% of the time and passes 37.3% of the time.

So why did the Vikings stray from the run-oriented attack early in the season? The answer is likely complex and would require more than a blog entry to answer. But Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell was asked about it on Thursday.

“One, you’ve got to go with what’s working,” Bevell said, referring to the Vikings boasting the NFL’s 8th-best passing attack a season ago. “Two, we wanted to have a little bit more balance (than in years prior to 2009, when the offense was run-heavy). You can go back all the way to ’06 when all we really could do was run it. And we ran it against as many guys (defenders) as they wanted to put in there. People were asking ‘How come we can’t be more explosive?’”

Bevell raises a good point. Prior to the Vikings signing QB Brett Favre before the 2009 season, the Vikings were often criticized for leaning too heavily on the run and not being able to ignite the passing game. Last season, the passing game was on fire and when times got rough, many criticized the Vikings for not running the ball enough.

Regardless of that debate, it’s clear that the Vikings team as it stands now is committed to re-establishing the running game and, more importantly, finding a balance in playcalling.

“I think you’re always striving for balance and you want to get as close to a balance as you can,” Bevell explained.

The one time when you don’t want to be balanced, though, is at the end of the game. That’s because a team would like to be protecting a lead and grinding out a victory, which is exactly what the Vikings were able to do against Washington last week. The Vikings salted away the final 6:13 of the clock against Washington and ran the ball 9 times in 10 plays before kneeling 3 times to end the game.

“Anytime that you can put a team away, or exert your will on them,” Bevell said, “I think you want to be able to do that.”

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Frazier Pleased With Effective Communication

Posted by cjsiewert on November 30, 2010 – 7:01 am

Maintaining communication between the head coach and coordinators, position coaches and players, and even the players and head coach is vital to game management. And interim coach Leslie Frazier couldn’t have been happier with how his staff and players communicated throughout Sunday’s victory over the Redskins.

“Darrell (Bevell) and the rest of the offensive staff did a great job of executing on game day the things that we talked about,” Frazier acknowledged during his day-after-the-game press conference. “Sometimes in between series, we would come back and I would talk about, ‘Make sure we are doing this.’ The communication was great. Those guys following through on the things we talked about was excellent and we got the results that we wanted.”

Sunday was obviously a new experience for Frazier – being a head coach in the NFL – and he handled it well with his familiar stoic demeanor. His expressions, or lack there of, almost reminded me of another coaching figure in Vikings history (need I even say his name?). But even with his eyes seemingly glued to the action on the field, Frazier acknowledged the importance of his involvement in all phases of the game.

“I have tried to be involved with both sides, along with helping with our special teams as well, just being in communication with (special teams coordinator) Brian Murphy,” Frazier said. “I think it is important that I am involved with both our offense and our defense, as much as I need to be, which I think is quite a bit.”

During his introductory press conference last Monday, Frazier told reporters that he would welcome QB Brett Favre’s input to the game plan “wholeheartedly,” and the interim coach justified that explanation once again a week later.

“I didn’t approach him with it as being conservative,” Frazier said his approach to Favre and the game plan. “I just let him know, along with our offensive staff, what I thought we needed to do to win. Brett wants to win as much as anybody in that room. All of our players want to win. He’s been very supportive of some of the changes that we’ve made and some of the changes we’ve talked about making going forward.

“Everybody wants to win. He’s been all in and I appreciate him for that. Hopefully the things we’re trying to do will help us to continue reach our goal as a team, and that’s to go out and win this weekend against Buffalo.”

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New Look Offense Under Frazier?

Posted by cjsiewert on November 25, 2010 – 10:10 am

Vikings Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier provides a great defensive mindset, having played as a DB for a Super Bowl winning team and coaching NFL defenses – from DBs to defensive coordinator – since 1999.

But now that Frazier’s responsibilities have broadened to the entire team, will the Vikings offense have a different look than the first 10 games of the 2010 season?

“I talked to our offense about that and what I think we need to do to be successful here,” Frazier responded when asked about his offensive philosophy. “I just emphasized certain points that I think are important for us to be successful as a team; what we need to be able to do on offense.

“Without going into specifics, I think they really understand that and when you watch us on Sunday hopefully that will really come across and you’ll be able to look at it and say, ‘OK, I see the direction that the Vikings are going.’”

And a new direction is what is exactly needed for a Vikings offense that ranks 29th in the league in scoring and 26th in TDs scored with 20. That turnaround will be given a good opportunity this Sunday against the Redskins, who are showing their own struggles on the defensive side of the ball. Washington ranks 24th in points per game allowed (24.5) and 21st in TDs allowed (28).

Frazier mentioned that he would welcome QB Brett Favre’s input to the game plan “wholeheartedly” since he witnessed that value with Peyton Manning during his time in Indianapolis. But when it comes down to the offensive approach, Frazier acknowledged that some ideas may not be a part of what they want to do, and his QB is aware of that approach.

“We’re going to run the wishbone this week,” Farve jokingly told reporters on Wednesday. “I went in Monday and yesterday, sat down with Darrell Bevell and Kevin Rogers, and we talked about not a whole lot different than what we’ve done in the past. I think a lot of the stuff that I feel comfortable with, and you won’t see a totally new offense, I hope you do, if you know what I mean, but I wouldn’t say it’s been a lot different.”

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All Defensive Coaches Will See Role Increase

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 24, 2010 – 12:08 pm

We mentioned this morning that one topic sure to arise in interim head coach Leslie Frazier’s first weekly Wednesday press conference was that of the role of defensive coordinator. Since Frazier was the team’s coordinator prior to the change, that role is now technically vacated and it’s a pivotal role as the team prepares a game plan for its opponent each week.

When asked about it this morning, Frazier said that no titles will officially change but that LBs coach Fred Pagac will become the “lead guy.” At the same time, though, Frazier stressed on multiple occasions that all of the defensive coaches’ roles – specifically those of DL coach Karl Dunbar and DBs coach Joe Woods – will increase.

“Fred will handle the brunt of things,” Frazier explained, “but he’ll get input from Joe, he’ll get input from Karl, obviously I’ll have some input on what they’re doing. But he’s going to be the lead guy; he’ll give direction. He’ll give direction in meetings [and] on the field; he’ll be the lead guy.”

In terms of actually making calls and communicating those calls to players on the field, Frazier indicated that Pagac will fill that role and also that the entire process will be more inclusive than when Frazier was the coordinator.

“Yes, with some assistance from our secondary coach and d-line (coach),” Frazier said of whether Pagac will call defensive plays. “They’re (assistant coaches) going to see some things and say ‘Hey think about this.’ It’ll be probably a little more inclusive than it was when I was doing it on game day.”

Speaking of game day, that’s where Frazier’s role will obviously change the most. He’ll be responsible for all game management issues, from guiding all 3 phases of the team to challenging plays to making decisions on whether to punt or go for it on a 4th-and-short situation. As a result, Frazier will rely on his defensive staff to take care of extra responsibilities so he isn’t tied to one side of the ball.

“Between Fred, Joe and Carl, they’ll handle those calls and put our defense in the best position to be successful,” Frazier said. “I have complete faith and trust in them, just like I do with Bev (offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell). And we’ll get it done.”

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Vikings Look To Improve Production On Opening Drive

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 11, 2010 – 1:34 pm

Last week the Vikings offense finished the game in a flurry, scoring 17 points in the final 8 minutes, 49 seconds of the game to cap a 27-24 overtime victory. As great as that was to see, Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said that he’d prefer to see his offense start fast rather than have to finish in a flurry.

“We’d like to start faster and get one of those first drives to get some points on the board and not put so much pressure on ourselves to have to make miraculous comebacks at the end of the game,” Bevell explained during his press conference on Thursday.

In looking at the numbers, the Vikings do need to improve their early-game offense. The Vikings are 1 of just 4 teams who haven’t scored any points on their 1st possession of the game. In their 8 opening possessions, the Vikings have punted 5 times and have 1 INT, 1 lost fumble and 1 turnover on downs.

This comes as a bit of a surprise for a Vikings offense that is relatively the same from last year. The Vikings ranked 5th in the NFL in points on opening possessions with 38. So what’s been the problem this year?

The numbers – and Bevell – suggest that self-inflicted wounds are generally the problem. Let’s take a look at the result from each game’s opening drive:

Week 1 @ New Orleans – A 3-and-out series and punt after a negative yardage play on 3rd and short
Week 2 vs. Miami – Turnover on downs in Miami territory after a false start on 3rd and 3
Week 3 vs. Detroit – Picked up one 1st down, then a negative yardage play led to punt
Week 5 @ Jets – A 3-and-out series and punt after 3 penalties
Week 6 vs. Dallas – Lost fumble
Week 7 @ Green Bay – Negative yardage play on 3rd and 3 and punt
Week 8 @ New England – No gain on 3rd and 1, then a punt
Week 9 vs. Arizona – Regained possession after INT-turned-touchback then allowed a sack on 3rd down, leading to punt

As you can see, there are too many instances where a sack or negative yardage play ruined a situation in which the Vikings should have converted a 3rd down to keep the drive going. Bevell agreed with this assessment, saying the teams goes back and looks at each opening drive to try and determine where improvements need to be made.

“As Brett (Favre) alluded to yesterday, we jump offsides, we have a missed assignment, we may drop a ball, we may not look at it right, we may miss a read. There’s a combination of things and we’re bringing it on ourselves,” Bevell said. “Our focus right now is continuing to talk about our execution and handling our business. We know what the defense is going to do. But we have to be able to react to the situations that we’re in better with our execution on a consistent basis.”

The Vikings will face a pretty good test this week as they try to improve their opening drive success. Soldier Field is typically a tough place for opposing offenses to get going early and the Bears have allowed 17 total points on 8 opening drives so far this season, which ranks right in the middle of the road compared to all NFL teams.

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Peterson’s Pass Protection Continues To Improve

Posted by cjsiewert on October 29, 2010 – 6:59 am

Ever since stepping onto the field as a rookie in 2007, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has shown players, coaches and fans alike how much of an explosive RB he is with blazing speed and brute strength – an uncommon combination of qualities that has separated the All-Pro RB from the rest in the league.

Throughout his first 3 seasons, Peterson was lauded for his superior qualities running the football, but criticized for not being able to block well and pick up different blitz packages during passing situations.

The 4-year veteran has silenced those critics with his improved play during such scenarios so far in the 2010 campaign.

“Outstanding,” Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell mentioned on Thursday of Peterson’s blitz recognition in last Sunday’s loss to the Packers. “He did a great job of stepping up in there. It’s never been about his willingness to pick it up. There’s just some intricate details on how we’re going to pick them up, where you’re supposed to be looking. Are you looking inside-out, are you looking outside-in?”

With his continued dominance running the football, Peterson’s improvement in the blocking game adds another weapon to an already impressive arsenal of position-specific strengths – and #28 is gaining confidence in that regard.

“I am at that point,” Peterson acknowledged of his comfort level when blocking. “I feel like I have been at that point. It’s all about just having opportunities to go out there and get it done.

“That particular play that you are talking about (Visanthe Shiancoe’s nullified TD against the Packers), we watched in practice and we knew it was going to come. I saw it unfold and was able to make a good pickup. Unfortunately, the touchdown that wasn’t a touchdown but really was a touchdown didn’t count.”

The improvement in blitz recognition will be a must when the Vikings square off against the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass. on Sunday. The Patriots defense is known for its fluid formations and unscouted looks. They are labeled as a 3-4 defense, but the Vikings coaching staff is well aware of Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick’s knack for changing his defense to a 4-man front when necessary.

“He schemes the teams that he’s playing against and the offense that he’s playing against, whether it’s protections, whether it’s specific plays that he might try to take away,” Bevell said of Belichick. “We’re prepared for the unscouted looks basically. We talked to our guys about this being a rule week. Whether it’s in protection, whether it’s in assignments, you go by the rules. The rules can always take care of any look that’s an unscouted look.”

If the Vikings are going to get back on the winning track, Peterson’s ability – along with the rest of the Vikings RBs blocking on passing downs – to pick up the blitz will be vital.  When examining the matchup between Peterson and the Patriots defense, it could be said that the more complete the Vikings star RB is in the running and blocking games, the more likely a Purple victory will come as a result.

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“In-Progress” Offense Poised To Get Back On Track

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 22, 2010 – 6:51 am

In 2009 the Vikings were the best in the NFL at sacking the QB, with the Green Bay Packers being the most frequent target. The Vikings tallied a league-high 48 sacks and got to Packers QB Aaron Rodgers 14 times in 2 games. Green Bay, meanwhile, didn’t register a single sack against the Vikings.

Similar performances from both teams this weekend would be nice to see, as the Vikings head into Lambeau Field for a Sunday night contest. The trend this season doesn’t indicate the Vikings will fare as well, though.

Minnesota has just 6 sacks to this point, tied for 2nd fewest in the NFL, while the Packers have tallied 21 sacks, tied for 2nd most in the NFL. On top of that, the Vikings have allowed 13 sacks in 5 games, which puts them on pace to yield 41 sacks through 16 games – too high of a number.

But while Sunday night’s game represents an opportunity for Green Bay to atone for last season’s significant sack disadvantage, it also gives the Vikings a chance to turn around their performance through the first 5 games, both offensively and defensively.

The offensive line has been a target of much criticism early in the season because of the sacks allowed. Sure, some of the sacks allowed are the responsibility of the offensive line. But many other factors come into play, such as blitz pickup by RBs, the ability of WRs to get open and the QB not holding the ball too long.

A season ago the Vikings had RB Chester Taylor in the mix and part of his value was his ability to pass protect. His departure via free agency has given rookie Toby Gerhart and 2nd-year player Albert Young an opportunity to step in and compete. While Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell did acknowledged there are some growing pains, he also reiterated that issues in pass protection can’t be tossed at the feet of just the RBs or offensive line.

“We’ve had some missed assignments from some of the younger backs as well,” Bevell said. “We’ve mis-declared a couple from the offensive line getting us going in the right direction. I’m not going to pin it all on the running backs. We’ve had different errors from whether it’s a running back, whether it’s a tight end in protection, whether it’s your offensive line and sometimes it’s Brett’s job to get rid of the ball as well. It kind of has been all-encompassing at this point.”

A good sign for Vikings fans, though, is that the offense is not worrying about pointing fingers at each other. Rather, they’re working hard to correct the problems and get back on track.

“We always prepare for pressure,” Bevell explained. “It’s our job to be able to pick it up. We’ve had some struggles. It’s something we’re continuing to work on and try and improve and get it targeted right. A lot goes into it, it’s not always just the offensive line. Sometimes the back’s involved. Sometimes the receiver’s got to shake open and the quarterback’s got to see it. It’s still something that we’re a work in progress with.”

Another good sign is that one of the offense’s best players – RB Adrian Peterson – is eager to get the offense back on track.

“The sky is the limit,” Peterson responded when asked about the potential of his team if they put a complete game together. “I feel like with all of the talent we have offensively, we can be as good as we want. It’s just all about us clicking and starting early, getting that fast start. I feel like we can be very explosive. We have showed signs, like you have seen, but it’s about doing it for four quarters. We haven’t done that yet. We look forward to doing that this Sunday night.”

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Vikings Show Confidence In Cooper

Posted by cjsiewert on October 14, 2010 – 12:45 pm

After backup C Ryan Cook was replaced by Jon Cooper at halftime during Monday night’s loss to the NY Jets, the 2nd-year veteran stepped up to fill in on a moment’s notice. His play gained the respect and attention of the coaching staff as well as his fellow teammates.

“He did a pretty nice job, held his own,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell mentioned of Cook’s ability to come in and perform when called upon. “I feel confident with Coop, he does a great job. He’s scrappy, he’s tough. He’s going to fight each and every play and I’m excited about it.”

Cooper, who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Vikings, has played in 3 games this season with Sullivan recovering from a nagging calf injury. As Bevell pointed out during his weekly press conference, it’s important the C position “understands what we’re trying to do” and possess the ability to “make a call quick” at the line of scrimmage.

When Sunday rolls around, the Vikings will have their hands full with Dallas Cowboys DT Jay Ratliff. The 6-year veteran has a knack for penetrating into the backfield with his “ability to redirect and his great quickness,” Bevell acknowledged.

Should Cooper be the choice as a starter on Sunday against a premier defensive front, the team holds assurance in his abilities. Also, the fact that the Vikings will be starting their 3rd C in 5 games is not a concern of one important figure on the offense.

“In the second half, we brought Jon Cooper in and he did a good job out there,” Vikings All-Pro RB Adrian Peterson said prior to Thursday’s practice. “Playing for a half (with Cooper) and the offense look good. We were able to move the ball and be productive.”

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Who’s The Man In The Middle For Thursday?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 7, 2010 – 2:39 pm

Starting C John Sullivan was sidelined for much of training camp and the preseason with a calf injury, leaving his status for Week 1 in question and prompting the Vikings to take a look at alternatives at the position. That’s the not-so-great news.

But the better news is that Sullivan has returned to practice over the last couple of days; he was listed as a limited participant for both Monday’s and Tuesday’s practices. Making the news even a little better is what both Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had to say about their starting C this week.

“He seems like he hasn’t missed a beat,” Childress said while meeting with reporters after Tuesday’s practice. “I think that probably he’s going through some of the soreness that you get, maybe not to the same extent as camp, just when you come out here and practice and get pushed around and your muscles talk to you a little bit. I think he’s going through some of that. He’s just working hard to get some of that stamina back.”

Bevell also acknowledged this week that Sullivan seems to be improving, but he also noted that looking good on the practice field and then performing in a regular season game are different monsters.

“He’s looked good,” Bevell said on Monday. “His conditioning has looked good. He’s done things on the side, whether it’s in the pool, whether it’s with [athletic trainer] Eric Sugarman, to keep his conditioning up. But it’s a matter of loading it up and making sure that it will hold up under 65 or 70 plays a game, all the way up to 90 plays.”

The Vikings have done a nice job developing alternatives at the position should Sullivan be unavailable on Thursday night or at another point in the season. Starting RG Anthony Herrera has taken both practice reps and preseason game reps at C, and regular backup Jon Cooper has also taken turns with the 1st-team offense.

“We like what we saw from Anthony,” Bevell said. “We like what we’ve seen from Cooper. It gives us the flexibility to say who we would put in there. We’re not going to put that out there. Both guys have done a nice job. I think both guys are capable of it, and we want to make sure that when we put those guys out there that we’re going to have the five best guys that are going to help us win.”

The line is at its best with Sullivan at C, but the possibility exists that he won’t be able to go on Thursday night in New Orleans. If that’s the case, either Cooper or Herrera will fill in. My sense is that Cooper would get the call at this point, which is the simplest change for the Vikings to make.

But Childress and Bevell could also decide to put Herrera in at C, which would keep Cooper as the 1st reserve and would then slide rookie Chris DeGeare in at RG. Herrera has performed well while playing C this preseason, but the issue with this alignment is it takes away from the team’s depth at G because the 1st reserve at the position – DeGeare – would be forced into the starting lineup with Herrera moving over from RG.

Any way it shakes out, the Vikings offensive line will be prepared for Thursday night’s game.

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Peterson Continues To Improve In Pass Protection

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 7, 2010 – 6:51 am

The Vikings took a look at several RBs over the offseason, training camp and preseason to come up with a plan to replace Chester Taylor, who left the team via free agency. Toby Gerhart, a 2nd round pick in this year’s draft, and Albert Young, a 2nd-year player who has worked his way up from the practice squad, will be relied upon to fulfill the role vacated by Taylor.

The primary role vacated by Taylor is that of the 3rd down back. Taylor was an excellent 3rd down back for the Vikings primarily because of his ability to pass protect and also because of his ability to catch passes out of the backfield.

But while Gerhart and Young will be relied upon to fulfill some of those duties, it sounds as if Peterson himself has also honed in on those important 3rd down skills.

“Each year I always find things to improve on,” Peterson said on Monday, “and with the absence of Chester Taylor, the great third-down back we had, I really overemphasized in the offseason doing those things. Running routes, protection, things like that. Really just focus on things, and as a team work on things that I’ve been working on. I just have improved.”

Since he entered the NFL as the 7th overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, Peterson has been a game-changer. He set the single-game rushing record as a rookie in ’07, led the NFL in rushing in 2008 and led the NFL in TDs in 2009. But great players always find things to work on and there’s no questioning the fact that Peterson and the Vikings have worked hard to improve the young superstar’s ability to contribute in the passing game and on 3rd down, specifically his ability to pick up pass rushers in the backfield to give the QB time to find an open receiver and pick up a crucial 3rd down.

“He’s come a long way, and I’d say he’s come a long way even in these last two weeks,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “He’s been outstanding, in terms of going back to that San Francisco pickup, where he didn’t quite step in there with as much confidence and conviction, to the last game against [Seattle] where you could see him do it, where he was able to step up in there and you could see him hold his ground (against a blitzing pass rusher).

“I’ve seen him going to the right spot, where he’s supposed to be. I’ve seen him stand in there with conviction and pick it up. And then I’ve seen him do a good job of reading, ‘Is that guy really blitzing or is he rushing to cover me and I need to get out?’ He’s come a long way.”

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