Vikings left a few tricks in the bag in season's first half

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 11, 2013 - 12:22 AM

The Vikings struggled through the first nine games, leading to nagging developmental questions.

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Cordarrelle Patterson’s 2-yard reception off a Christian Ponder pass Thursday was his first touchdown catch as a pro.

Photo: ANN HEISENFELT • Associated Press,

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As the Vikings take the rare Sunday/Monday off following Thursday night’s win over the Redskins, we take this opportunity to ask the following questions regarding three areas of the team that could have helped the Vikings do better than 2-7 through nine games …

1. Could Cordarrelle Patterson speed it up?

After Adrian Peterson, the next best pure playmaker on the team is rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. It took Patterson seven games to tie an NFL career record for most touchdowns of 105 yards or more, including an NFL-record 109-yarder. But both of those plays came on kickoff returns.

When it comes to receiver, Patterson’s learning curve has been even slower than advertised when he came out of Tennessee with only one year of major college experience.

But have the Vikings been too cautious with an obvious playmaker?

“The pace that we are at is, I think, about what we could have done,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “I don’t know if we could have accelerated it. … I think the way we’ve done it is about the best way you could have done it.”

Thursday night, Patterson caught multiple passes on the same possession for the first time all season. And the resulting eight-play, 73-yard drive was perhaps the most efficient possession that offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has called and quarterback Christian Ponder has executed this season.

On the first catch, Patterson lined up to the right, ran a simple route and caught a deep ball for 20 yards. Four snaps later, he lined up to the left, motioned right, released into the right corner of the end zone and caught a 2-yard touchdown, his first as an NFL receiver.

Patterson played a season-high 39.6 percent of the offensive snaps. He also had more snaps than receiver Jarius Wright (21-18) for the first time this year. But he still only caught those two passes.

“We’ve been adding a few things here and there as the season goes on,” Frazier said. “Just keep bringing him along, just keep devising ways to utilize his talents. I think Bill is doing a good of doing that, and we are doing it at Cordarrelle’s pace.”

2. Why not K-Will, Sharrif from the get-go?

When the Vikings invested the 23rd overall draft pick on defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and then expressed complete shock and utter joy that he fell from a top-10 projection into their laps, it was easy to assume that Floyd and Kevin Williams were to team’s top two playmakers at defensive tackle.

When asked if something could be done to get both of them on the field at the same time even though they play the same three-technique position, the Vikings said that wasn’t in the plans. Neither was a nose tackle and, besides, Floyd would be part of a rotation that would protect the older Williams from playing too many snaps.

But along came the Redskins game. Forced to play at nose tackle because of injuries to Letroy Guion and Fred Evans, Williams responded with 2½ sacks in his best game in five seasons.

Floyd played 60 percent of the defensive snaps, so Frazier was asked if this should have been the starting combo from the get-go.

“We felt good, and we still do, about Letroy and Fred at [nose tackle],” he said. “The injuries occurred and all of the sudden you’re forced to do it. In Sharrif’s case, we wanted him to be able to come along. Kevin was still playing solid at the three-technique so there wasn’t a need to force [Floyd] to be a starter at Day 1.”

3. What happened to Joe Webb, playmaker?

After Peterson and Patterson, Joe Webb might be the third-best pure athletic playmaker on the team.

When the Vikings demoted Webb from backup quarterback to receiver and then kept him on the roster despite his inexperience at the new position, it was assumed something special would be added to the mix to justify and maximize Webb’s roster spot.

Perhaps they would use some old “Blazer Package” gadgets with Webb at quarterback. Maybe line him up in the backfield next to Peterson.

Heck, considering the state of the quarterback position this year, maybe use him as a read-option change of pace to scratch out some first downs, find some rhythm, run some clock and keep an exhausted defense off the field.

Well, nine games into the season, Webb has zero carries, hasn’t run the read-option and the Blazer formation was sent in only once. And that was aborted after the Vikings were flagged for an illegal formation.

Meanwhile, Webb has three catches for 24 yards. All of them came in the fourth quarter of a 25-point loss to Carolina.

Northern intelligence

There’s never a good time to lose an Aaron Rodgers. But at least the Packers have the ability to run the football consistently. Whether they maintain that ability without the threat of Rodgers passing the ball, we’ll find out now that Rodgers’ collarbone is in two pieces.

But Packers running back James Starks has three touchdown runs of 25 yards or more in a four-game span. He’s the first Packer in franchise history to do that. He’s also the only player in the league with three TD runs of 25-plus yards this season.

• • •

Jay Cutler’s early return from a torn groin muscle could go a number of ways and produce a variety of ramifications for the Bears’ season and long-term quarterback situation. At least that’s one way of looking at Sunday’s battle for first place with the Lions.

Cutler is in a contract year and Josh McCown has the hot hand. Cutler could be accused of trying to rush things for personal gain, but it’s not like he’s living check to check and wouldn’t have many other teams interested in him. Cutler, however, says the doctors were wrong when they said he’d be out at least four weeks. “As soon as I got hurt, I thought that I would be back quicker than they thought,” Cutler said. “I kind of had that mind-set throughout.”

• • •

Matthew Stafford looks barely old enough to shave. But, at 25 and in only his 54th career start, he could break Bobby Layne’s career passing record for Lions quarterbacks.

Stafford needs 286 yards against the Bears on Sunday to surpass the 15,710 that Layne threw from 1950 to ’58. In his first meeting with the Bears, Stafford threw for a season-low 242.

Three observations …

• Watching what John Fox and Gary Kubiak have gone through the past two weeks has to make Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden even happier in their analyst positions. #theyaren’tcomingback

• This is no defense of Richie Incognito, but anyone who has been in an NFL locker room — even reporters who get limited access — knows that social norms of any kind cannot be applied to that arena.

• Percy Harvin is a great player. But here’s an odd stat: His teams are 13-3 in their past 16 regular-season games (Vikings 5-2 last year, Seahawks 8-1 this year) without him.

... and two predictions

• The Cowboys’ NFL record of allowing 400-yard passers in a single season will be extended to five when Dallas visits Drew Brees on Sunday night.

• The 49ers will win a rare NFL defensive battle when they play host to a Carolina team that also specializes in the lost art.

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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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