Scoggins: With red flags glaring, offense is put on notice

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 13, 2011 - 6:44 AM

Too much went wrong Sunday to dismiss the notion that real issues could exist.

Donovan McNabb had more success running than passing Sunday.

Photo: Gregory Bull, Associated Press - Ap

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We heard throughout Vikings training camp that Donovan McNabb felt refreshed and renewed by a change in scenery, and that he would thrive in Bill Musgrave's offense.

McNabb passed for 2 yards in the second half Sunday, 39 yards for the game.

We heard all about their plans to use multiple tight ends in a variety of formations and throw to them early and often.

McNabb threw two passes to his tight ends, neither of them completed.

We heard about Musgrave's ability to get creative and use all the skilled playmakers at his disposal in order to keep defenses guessing and off-balance.

The Vikings ran the ball on five of their six first-down plays in the second half and fell into a predictable run-run-pass rut.

We were told that Bernard Berrian would become a downfield threat again now that Brett Favre is no longer the quarterback. And that the offensive line would be improved, even with Charlie Johnson at left tackle.

Maybe all those things will happen eventually, but the first look at the Vikings new offense in a 24-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers brought more questions than answers.

Perhaps it's unfair to make broad-based evaluations after just one game -- against a quality opponent -- but that performance was so alarmingly inept and bland you kept waiting for them to call a third-and-long dump-off to Tahi. That staple of the previous regime's KAO offense would have fit right in Sunday.

Coach Leslie Frazier said the loss provided a "good measuring stick" for his team in all phases. Outside of Adrian Peterson's running, it was hard to find many positives on that side of the ball.

Even when they got creative and employed their Wildcat-like package with Joe Webb, the timing seemed strange.

Talk about a buzzkill debut.

Frazier preached consistency in his day-after summation.

"We have to do a little bit better job of executing in certain situations," he said.

Growing pains were expected with the offense because of its new parts. New coordinator, new quarterback, new system, new receivers, new left tackle. Nobody expected them to fire on all cylinders from the start. But we didn't expect this either: 17 plays, 26 total yards and two first downs in the second half.

"We didn't have that many opportunities in the second half," Peterson said. "I want to say we had three, four series and they weren't long series."

Not surprisingly, McNabb bore the brunt of criticism, but the mess wasn't entirely his fault. McNabb played poorly, but some of that was because the Chargers pass rush made him claustrophobic.

If the Vikings can't protect better, it's going to be difficult for them to throw the ball downfield. That, in turn, puts more pressure on Peterson, which is what we saw in the opener.

The Vikings understandably want their offense to revolve around their $100 million running back, but they looked Sunday like a baseball team waiting for its slugger to hit a three-run homer.

McNabb's longest completion was 12 yards, and he took only one real shot down the field all game. Under pressure, McNabb was hit as he released the ball and underthrew Berrian, who isn't going to outfight too many defensive backs for the ball.

Somehow, some way, the Vikings have to find the right balance with their offense.

"They were stacking the line of scrimmage," Frazier said. "When that happens, you've got to take advantage down the field."

The Vikings have too much talent on offense to look this bad over the long haul, although their line did nothing to alleviate all the doubts and concern heading into the season. The buzzword at Winter Park on Monday was patience.

"It's disappointing, but at that the same time nobody here is going to panic," center John Sullivan said. "Nobody here is going to get nervous about it."

We're not ready to push the panic button yet either. But those red flags were awfully hard to ignore.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

 

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