Today, for the first time, Pat Shurmur will reveal an offensive game plan for the Vikings that is solely of his devising. This would be a good time for him to devise a new depth chart at what is becoming one of the most important positions on a free-falling team.
The position of wide receiver, diminished and obscured under Mike Zimmer’s original plan to rely on Adrian Peterson and a powerhouse defense, may be the key to beating Washington on Sunday and winning a flawed division.
Sam Bradford has proved an accurate passer. He has completed 68.3 percent of his throws as a Viking. Last week, about three-fourths of his passes traveled less than 10 yards downfield in the air.
Behind an offensive line struggling to pass block or create a competent running game, Shurmur is compelled to rely on a short passing game. That will work only if the receivers prove dynamic and tough.
Which is why the receiver pecking order that emerged last week needs to provide the basis for the current and future offense.
Stefon Diggs, the Vikings’ best deep threat, caught 13 passes for 80 yards last week. His longest reception went for 12 yards.
Adam Thielen, often overlooked and underrated, caught four passes for 68 yards, making difficult and clutch catches.
Cordarrelle Patterson caught six passes for 45 yards.
And LaQuon Treadwell made his first catch of the season on a 15-yard down-and-in.
These performances represent the proverbial small sample size. They also display a window into what the Vikings want and need to do.
Charles Johnson was supposed to develop into a key receiver last year, and was given a chance to revive his career this season. He has failed to create separation from defenders or to make difficult catches. Jarius Wright is a solid pro whose strength was running after the catch, but he has been surpassed by the Vikings’ other receivers.
In a short passing offense, the receivers will be required to catch the ball in traffic and break tackles. Diggs, Thielen, Patterson and Treadwell all should be able to do so, and Patterson and Treadwell should see their roles grow the most the rest of the season.
While Diggs is easily the Vikings’ best receiver, Patterson is the best suited to the Vikings’ new approach. He is a powerful runner willing to lower his head and treat a bubble screen as if it’s a fullback plunge into the line. He’s also the Viking most likely to take a short pass to the end zone.
Under Norv Turner, Treadwell became a latter-day Patterson, a physical receiver with unrefined skills Turner was happy to banish. Shurmur has to find a way to get value out of this year’s first-round pick.
Treadwell is listed as questionable for the Washington game. When he’s healthy, his presence in the receiving rotation will be required. He may not be polished, he may not be a superior athlete in terms of speed or leaping ability, but he will fight for the ball and for yards and should fit into the Vikings’ new approach.
With these four receivers, tight end Kyle Rudolph and H-back Rhett Ellison, the Vikings won’t scare cornerbacks but should be able to move the ball.
One of the often-forgotten aspects of Vikings history is that Bud Grant’s former offensive coordinator, a character named Jerry Burns, invented what would later morph into the West Coast offense.
With an exceptional receiver in Chuck Foreman at running back, Burns believed in quick passes that allowed the Vikings to control the ball while targeting defenders who did not specialize in pass coverage.
Shurmur should be able to emulate Burns this year. The difference between their rosters is that Burns could rely on exceptional offensive linemen and a great pass-catching back, while Shurmur will devise game plans to reduce the importance of pass blocking.
Because Shurmur doesn’t have anyone like Foreman, he would be wise to turn to Patterson as often as possible.
Patterson isn’t just one of the better receivers on this team. In the absence of Peterson, Patterson is also the Vikings’ best running back.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On