For all their success on the defensive side of the ball, the Minnesota Vikings have been a lackluster bunch on offense in 2015. With a number of weapons at wide receiver, tight end, and running back, this is a group that, on paper, should put up a healthy score each week. Teddy Bridgewater proved at the end of last season that he’s capable of carrying Norv Turner’s offense, and Adrian Peterson’s resurgence this year has helped the Vikings to eight wins.
And yet, the balance between the running game and the passing attack just isn’t there. You could point the blame at the offensive line, which ranks 28th in pass protection, per Football Outsiders. Or, you could say that the wide receivers aren’t getting open down the field and Bridgewater’s holding the ball too long in the pocket. Maybe, just maybe, the Vikings can’t pass the ball because they’ve relied too heavily on Peterson’s legs.
Either way, the problems go deeper than the players on the field; they start with Norv Turner. Long regarded as one of the game’s top offensive minds, he’s struggled to kick Minnesota’s offense into high gear, especially this season. The Vikings rank 28th in the NFL with 19.8 points per game and almost dead-last in every major passing statistic. Fans have grumbled, and now, I’m asking the VT staff one simple question:
Should the Vikings consider a switch at offensive coordinator after the season, and if so, who would you choose?
Carl: Yes, Ken Zampese — Bengals Quarterbacks Coach
One of the names on Mike Zimmer’s short list of offensive coordinator candidates that he reached out to after landing the Vikings’ head coaching position was Bengals’ long-time quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese. Zampese is in his 13th season as the Bengals quarterbacks coach, and his record working with Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton is impressive to say the least.
Zampese has interviewed in the past for offensive coordinator positions, and will most likely be a hot candidate again this offseason. If by chance Norv Turner was a “Rick Spielman” hire, and I think he was, Zimmer will certainly have the clout “now” to get his guy this offseason. Of all the coaches contacted, Zampese was the only one without offensive coordinator experience. Turner, Mike Mularkey, and Scott Linehan all had connections with the Vikings and also offensive coordinator experience. So, how did Zampese’s name even make the list? Obviously, Zimmer thinks highly of him.
Did Spielman persuade Zimmer to hire an assistant coach with a proven offensive coordinator track record? Let’s just say, if the offense continues to struggle developing Teddy Bridgewater, Zampese is one name to keep an eye on this offseason.
Brent: Yes, explore other options
There are so many frustrations regarding Turner’s offense at this point, including the number of 7-step drop backs and play action passes he has been calling when the offensive line is failing to block anyone. Furthermore, I am starting to wonder about Bridgewater’s development and if Turner and his son, Scott, have stunted Bridgewater’s ability to grow as a quarterback. In my opinion, it’s time to explore our options before the window closes on this young team.
Adam P.: No, Norv deserves another year in Minnesota
Norv should be given at least one more season in Minnesota because the problem with the offense may actually lie deeper within the coaching staff. Jeff Davidson has been the Vikings’ offensive line coach since 2011, and the unit has performed well below expectations since he showed up. Under Davidson, Minnesota has given up an average of more than 45 sacks per season in the last three years. That is completely inexcusable for a coach who has held the position with the team for five seasons now.
As a suggestion, Mike Zimmer should think about letting Davidson go and bringing in someone else that may be able to prevent his quarterback from getting killed. Many of the Vikings’ offensive problems over the past few seasons have been related to the offensive line and eventually, the coach in charge of the unit has to be held responsible.
Adam W.: Yes, but let’s evaluate after the season is through
If the defense of Mike Zimmer has a fatal flaw, it appears to be the inability to properly deal with mobile quarterbacks, but part of that might also have to do with personnel. Either way, the trend has carried over from 2014 and the Vikings have lost to all three of the athletically dangerous quarterbacks they’ve faced (Colin Kaepernick, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson) in large part because of the fits they cause with their nifty footwork and ability to gain yardage on a keeper. The Vikings defense averages less than two sacks per game against these three quarterbacks, have allowed them to rush for 98 combined yards, struggled mightily in third down situations, and have lost all three of those games. In fact, teams featuring mobile quarterbacks account for 75% of our losses this year, despite the fact that each of those teams could easily use wide receiver talent as an excuse for their shortcomings.
The fact is that even the most potent of defensive schemes struggle to account for dual threat quarterbacks and Mike Zimmer’s team is living proof. So, what does that have to do with this question?
If you flip the table around, you find a Norv Turner offense that features a young and athletic quarterback and one of the NFL’s best running backs. You also find a scheme that seems to lack creativity, place the playmakers in a box that only partly plays to their strengths, and simply is not getting the job done in a way that gives any hope of a three or four game postseason winning streak. It is time to take the chains off of Teddy Bridgewater, time to fully evaluate everything he can bring to the table, and time to show us all that he is the guy this team can depend on to carry them through the tough times. I just don’t know if that will happen.
Before the fans do away with Turner all together, I would say we should see how he finishes off this season first and get a bigger sample size, because it isn’t like we’re making a change right now anyways. I don’t see much point at lining up replacement candidates until we can sit back and fully evaluate a full two seasons of his work.
With that being said, Zygi Wilf will be moving this team into a big new mansion next season, and he will want a maximum amount of optimism abound when the 2016 season rolls around. You don’t build a new mansion only to bring the old, drab curtains from your old house with you. At this point, Turner has a very limited amount of time to prove that he is not a set of old, drab curtains… that need to be replaced.
Brett: Yes (with a replacement that makes sense)
Though the Vikings offense doesn’t currently have the personnel to excel at a high level, its current offensive coordinator, Norv Turner is doing it no favors. The Vikings offensive line has been notoriously bad at pass blocking for years. Part of that is General Manager Rick Spielman’s fault. Spielman has drafted just two offensive lineman in the first three rounds during his tenure as GM with the Vikings. That’s pretty inexcusable for a man who’s been relatively successful at most other positions. Jeff Davidson, who has the been the Vikings offensive line coach since 2011, should certainly be held accountable as well.
But where Norv Turner is most culpable is his blatant stubbornness in adjusting his scheme to both improve where his players currently excel and hide the areas they do not. Here is all you need to know: Despite the offensive line allowing more pressures than any other team in the NFL, Teddy Bridgewater has more 7-step drops than any other quarterback this season! Just think about that for a second. Part of the problem, and it’s one we discussed earlier in the season here at VT, is that Bridgewater’s strengths and Peterson’s strengths are like oil and water. But, as the offensive coordinator, it is Turner’s responsibility to figure out how to put his personnel in the best positions to succeed. And not only has he failed to do that this season, but one could argue (I could argue) that his stubbornness has ultimately hurt Bridgewater’s development.
So, to the meat of the question – should Norv Turner be fired? I don’t take the task lightly of determining whether or not someone gets to keep or lose their livelihood. However, in this instance (and since I actually have zero power anyway), I think Turner has shown that he is not a good fit for the Vikings.
Who we’d replace him with? Honestly, not knowing who’s available and who’s going to be taken by other teams, it’s very difficult to say. I’m also not familiar enough with the coaching landscape to make an educated recommendation. However, if a suitable replacement is available, I would be in favor of terminating Turner’s tenure in Minnesota.
Andy: Yes, Shawn Watson — Assistant HC/QB Coach, Texas
Norv Turner needs to be replaced if he does not adapt his system to what Teddy Bridgewater does well and the constraints that the offensive line and receivers allow the offense to do. The frustrating thing is we’ve seen what Teddy and Norv can do when in harmony (the final five games of 2014), but whether it be a mandate from Zimmer, Spielman, or even higher up, Adrian Peterson is the sole focus of the offense while Teddy is no more than a footnote. This is our first opportunity for a home-grown franchise quarterback in decades and we’re doing him a disservice. Enter Shawn Watson.
Shawn Watson is currently the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach at Texas for Charlie Strong, but was previously offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Louisville. For Charlie Strong. From 2011-13. The exact three years Teddy Bridgewater was a Cardinal and developed into one of the best young signal callers in the nation. Now, it would be far fetched, as Watson’s loyal to Strong (although the Texas administration may have something to say about that), has never coached in any capacity at the NFL level, and reuniting quarterbacks with college coaches doesn’t always work (i.e. Ryan Tannehill and Mike Sherman). But Watson runs a pro-style, West Coast offense that Teddy has already thrived in, worked under NFL-caliber coaches like Bill Callahan (Watson was his OC/QB coach at Nebraska from 2007-10), and he and Teddy have a relationship more akin to father-son than coach-player.
Again it may be far fetched and maybe Norv rights the ship, but if this bit goes pear-shaped and the Turners are shown the door, it makes a lot of sense to at least kick the tires on Watson. Maybe too much sense. We are the Vikings after all.
Austin: Yes, with an Erhardt-Perkins coach
Norv Turner’s a fine coach and an influential figure in NFL circles, but his system just doesn’t work in Minnesota. Without the offensive line to protect on five or seven-step drops, Bridgewater can’t attack the intermediate to deep areas of the field. By the time he’s at the top of his drop on most plays, Bridgewater’s swarmed by free rushers and blitzers. The plan to ride Adrian Peterson to the playoffs, much like they did in 2012, made sense early on this season. Until, of course, defenses exposed what’s arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL.
While depth and scheme are an issue up front, my biggest frustration comes from Turner’s inability to adjust. We’ve seen multiple occasions where the Vikings have come out and had success with short, three-step drops. The quick passing attack plays to Bridgewater’s strengths and masks much of the offensive line’s issues. But when they choose to do that, the Vikings eliminate Peterson from the game plan. In Turner’s book, that’s not an option. Often times, they’ll use the hurry-up and short passing game as a change-of-pace rather than a staple of the offense, reverting back to the power running and deep play action that’s been up-and-down this year.
Seeing as Mike Zimmer is a Bill Parcells product, it would make sense for the Vikings to move to an Erhardt-Perkins (EP) offense. Parcells is well-versed in the philosophy, which can be described with one simple quote:
“Pass to score, run to win.”
As explained on Buffalo Rumblings, the EP relies on possessing the football and winning the battle for time of possession. Plays are called by concept, not by the route numbering that’s made Norv Turner’s Air Coryell such a staple around the league. Concept-based routes allow teams to run the same play out of multiple formations. The flexibility that comes from an EP offense makes life easier for a quarterback — if he understands the alignment of his receivers, he can dissect who will be open before the snap. Players can be interchangeable, giving the Vikings multiple options out of the same few looks.
Former NFL coach Charlie Weiss made the system famous in New England, and Bill Parcells kickstarted the trend with the New York Giants. Current Vikings offensive line coach Jeff Davidson ran the system in Carolina as the Panthers’ offensive coordinator. Each had varying levels of success, and the quick-hitting attack may work well for a quarterback like Bridgewater.