Time would not seem to be on Josh Freeman’s side.
The new Vikings quarterback is scrambling to learn the team’s offense for Monday night’s game against the New York Giants.
And he will need time in the pocket, something that has been in short supply for Vikings quarterbacks this season. Given the Giants’ reputation for a fierce pass rush, Freeman is likely to be … wait … could this be right? New York has only five sacks in six games? Five sacks, an NFL low, from a Tom Coughlin-coached team?
Hey, could be a good game for Freeman to break in. And could be a chance for the Vikings’ occasionally frazzled offensive line to shore up.
After all, Giants tackles Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka might not be aging well; end Jason Pierre Paul isn’t completely back to form following back surgery; rookie end Damontre Moore is injury prone; and sack-happy tackle Osi Omenyiora left for the Falcons in free agency. The line is a major issue for an 0-6 team.
“Sometimes sacks are like turnovers, they come in bunches,” said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier. “They just haven’t had some of those leads sometimes that you need to get sacks. We’re going to have to do a good job in blocking their front. It’s probably still the strength of their defense.”
The Giants, however, might be looking at this game as a chance to improve the tepid sack totals. The Vikings offensive line — tackles Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, guards Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco and center John Sullivan — will be blocking for their third starting quarterback in four games.
“All of us need to get back on the same page,” Fusco said. “As an offensive line, you’re going to just play five as one — not a guy missing on someone and another guy messing up. The Giants are good with their assignments and schemes … we have to be assignment-sound.
“As far as the quarterback, whoever is back there, we’re going to block for him. We’re behind Josh, and we’re going to protect for him.”
Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said he was comfortable with the offensive line’s adjustments to Freeman, adding, “We’d love to practice outside for eight hours a day if we could, but if we did, no one would have anything left in the tank for Monday. We’re trying to be smart and selective in our preparation.
“There will be [adjustment for the line]. … Each quarterback’s cadence has its nuances, so it has been good for them this week to get adjusted to Josh’s cadence.”
Statistically, the Vikings (1-4) are middle of the NFL’s offensive pack. They are 19th in average yards per game (338.4), 21st in passing yardage (222.0), 13th in rushing (116.4) and 17th in sacks allowed (14).
But the perception of a struggling line was formed in the season opener in Detroit when, after a 78-yard touchdown run, Adrian Peterson was unable to find running room, gaining 15 yards on 17 carries. On Sunday, Carolina swarmed since-benched quarterback Matt Cassel with pressure, rendering the passing game ineffective.
“That was an embarrassing loss, especially at home in front of our home fans, there’s nothing else to call it,” Sullivan said. “We have to get better. With Josh coming in, well, no matter who the quarterback is, we prepare ourselves the same way. Personal feelings never come into this. This is our job. You take the emotion out of it. Whoever the quarterback is, we support him 100 percent.”
With pass protection in Freeman’s debut vitally important, though, Coughlin reminded people of what the Vikings do best, with league MVP Peterson: “When you play the Vikings, you have to stop the run. Pressure on the quarterback is important, but you have to stop the run.”