The Vikings will start the 2016 season with a revamped offensive line and a first-round pick breaking in at receiver, but the most important changes for offense might be required of 64-year-old coach headed for retirement and a 25-year-old player headed for ignominy.
The offensive line is guaranteed to be better. The receivers should be, too. The most fascinating dynamic on the weaker side of the ball for the Vikings will be the relationship or lack thereof between Norv Turner and Cordarrelle Patterson.
Turner’s offense disappointed in 2016, ranking 29th of 32 NFL teams in total net yards. He had excuses, from horrid offensive line play to Mike Wallace’s disappearance, but it is the charge of an offensive coordinator, especially one of Turner’s repute, to find what works.
That’s where Patterson didn’t come in in 2015. He caught two passes. He took two handoffs. Even for a player fairly accused of a lack of diligence and awareness, that’s inexplicable.
Bill Musgrave waited until late in Patterson’s rookie season of 2013 to find creative ways to feed him the football, yet that year Patterson produced 469 receiving yards on 45 catches, 158 rushing yards on 12 carries and seven touchdowns from scrimmage. In the last six games of that season, he caught 24 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns and rushed 10 times for 156 yards and three more TDs.
Extrapolated to 16 games, that’s 1,144 yards and 16 touchdowns from scrimmage.
In 2015, Patterson’s second season in Turner’s offense, he touched the ball four times from scrimmage.
Patterson deserves blame for not instilling confidence in his coaches. That’s part of a player’s job.
But the tough love has got to stop. There is no way that Patterson has become less of a player or a student of the game than he was during the middle of the 2013 season.
Indications from summer practice are that Patterson impressed as a receiver and a more willing student, and as he prepares for another season of scrutiny and career pressure, there is another figure who could come into play.
Pat Shurmur’s title is tight ends coach, but he is a former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator and an expert at running the West Coast Offense. If he’s up to speed and attentive, Patterson could be a dynamic player in that kind of system, one that emphasizes short passes and receivers who can run with the ball.
Zimmer’s hiring of Turner seemed auspicious. The new Vikings head coach had the pull to land a renowned coordinator and the humility to hand off responsibility to one side of the ball.
If you believe that Teddy Bridgewater is a future top-10 quarterback in the NFL, then Turner’s hiring paid off immediately, as his scouting of Bridgewater led to the Vikings landing their starter with a late first-round pick.
Since then, Turner’s influence has not been so much in evidence. They have ranked 27th and 29th in total yards in his two seasons. If not for Adrian Peterson’s ability to break tackles, the Vikings offense might have been historically bad the past two years.
Patterson should be able to help. He should at least be given a chance to help.
The rub, as always, is that for Patterson to touch the ball more often, someone else will have to touch it less often.
Stefon Diggs and Laquon Treadwell need to be developed. Charles Johnson deserves another chance after a rib injury ruined his 2015. Jarius Wright is a reliable slot receiver. Jerick McKinnon is one of the Vikings’ most explosive players. Peterson’s ability to wear down defenses remains the Vikings’ offensive strength.
Where does Patterson fit in?
Peterson is 31. Treadwell is unproven. Diggs faded last season once defenses were made aware of his skills. Wright is a nice player but never a centerpiece of the gameplan.
The Vikings’ very offensive rankings indicate there must be room for Patterson. Musgrave’s last offense, with its willingness to feature Patterson, ranked 13th.
Turner might want to imitate his predecessor (Musgrave), or he might have to make way for his successor (Shurmur).