Opinion

Turner’s Offense Too Often Punchless

There was wide spread excitement in 2014 when newly appointed head coach Mike Zimmer selected Norv Turner as offensive coordinator.

The selection made a lot of sense, at first pass. Turner would likely mentor the soon to be drafted quarterback, had worked with a top tier running back (LaDainian Tomlinson) in San Diego and would serve as a knowledgeable peer to Zimmer embarking on his first stint as a head coach.

Some credit can be given to Turner’s influence on an 8-3 football team, but after the victory in Atlanta, I can’t help but wonder if Turner is the the right man to lead the Vikings offensively.

In 2013, Bill Musgrave was run out of town as offensive coordinator to the vast approval of Viking fans. Musgrave really failed to produce much offensively for the Vikings and moved to the Bay area to help the Oakland Raiders and Derek Carr field one of the more potent offenses in the league.

Remember, Musgrave was hired from Atlanta due to his work with quarterback Matt Ryan and was asked to groom Christian Ponder as a franchise quarterback. That obviously never panned out and you wonder if Musgrave was simply doomed with the wrong 12th overall pick.

Meanwhile, the Vikings are ranked 29th in total yards, 24th in points scored and after starting another game on fire, seemingly fell apart and gave the Falcons more than enough opportunities to send us home 7-4.

So what gives, Norv? No one can claim we’re blessed across the offensive line, but this team is much more talented across each position when compared to Musgrave’s tenure.

It’s difficult to criticize Turner for his use of Adrian Peterson, as Peterson gets the ball plenty and was more involved in the passing game vs Atlanta compared to previous weeks. Remember, however, that Peterson ran the Vikings to the playoffs on his way to 2,000+ yards with Musgrave at the helm. It’s difficult to give Turner a lot of credit for Peterson leading the league in rushing when you could argue Peterson would do the same with any offensive coordinator.

In 2012, the Ponder led Vikings ranked 20th overall in yards per game and scored three points more per game than the 2015 Vikings. In 2013, the final year with the Vikings, Musgrave’s offense scored an average of 24.5 points per game and were ranked 13th in yards per game. That’s right, the Vikings improved offensively the year the Vikings fired Musgrave.

So I pose a question for consideration. Has Turner done enough to retain his job in 2016? I would agree that it sounds kind of crazy to think about firing the offensive coordinator of a first place football team, but are we crazy to presume that Turner is stunting the Vikings’ ascension as a team overall?

When Turner has succeed in developing a flow to the offense, it’s early in games. I don’t know if these are scripted plays that the team spends more time on or if play calling is limited due to game situations, but I am stumped as to why Turner seemingly hits a roadblock on the 3rd drive each and every week.

So let’s give Turner the benefit of the doubt and acknowledged that offenses aren’t perfect. It’s unreasonable to expect an offense to score every drive. Even with that front of mind, how can you explain the curious play calls Norv dials up at what seems like the worst possible time.

This week, it was watching Matt Asiata throw himself into a pile of lineman on 3rd & 5 for three yards. Let’s not forget this was in the red zone with a quarterback the franchise trusts wholeheartedly. Bridgewater had thrown a red zone touch down earlier in the game, but are we not expecting second year quarterbacks to make mistakes when he’s trying to put up points?

If you dive into Bridgewater’s 2nd quarter interception, you notice it was a three step drop with three receivers running deep routes. I realize Turner is looking to max protect Bridgewater to give him a pocket to throw from, but I think it’s terrible to know that and then look to protect Teddy later and take the ball out of his hand when points were at a shortage all game.

Forget today’s strange call on 3rd down, how about the call against the Rams after Bridgewater was knocked out of the game? A bootleg to the weak side with Shaun Hill? I understand that you might send in multiple plays prior to a drive, but you have to a the foresight to know you need to be flexible enough to call the right play.

So the Vikings offense isn’t putting up better stats than the previous regime and it’s apparent that Turner’s decades of experience in the NFL don’t preclude him from bad play calls. If we strip away those facets of the job, is Turner’s role in developing Bridgewater important enough to sacrifice in the other areas?

Of course it’s incredibly short-sighted to boil down what goes into coaching at such a high level, but you have to at the very least acknowledge the shortcomings of the offense thus far.

At 8-3, the Vikings are positioned well for the playoffs and there is much to be happy in the North. As this young team continues to grow, it’s on the offense to take the next step in that evolution and that ultimately starts with with Turner. His inability to find consistency might call into question whether we have the right man for the job.

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Brent LaBathe

Brent LaBathe (Contributor) Cloud technology leader by day, sports nut by night, Brent is a local purple diehard who's passion for the team boarders on obsession. After graduating from St. Cloud State in 2008, he was a contributing writer for mvn.com and has always had a passion for writing. When he's not cursing his golf clubs for failing him yet again, he's constantly on twitter @BrentLaBathe.

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20 Comments

  1. The offensive lines inability to pass protect limits what the offense can do. And let’s face it, players often are making poor plays in the red zone, Teddy not looking off a safety, Rudolph dropping balls, etc.

    Excuses? No, just observation. Personally not willing to write off Norv a season and a half into his tenure.

    1. I’m not trying to find reasons to get rid of Norv either, but poor execution by players does fall on the coaches. When players under preform, coaches are changed.

      1. Brent, I would disagree. For the most part the Coaches job is to put the players in position to make plays. The Coaches can’t make the tackles or the catches.

        1. Although I can’t really argue your point, I would counter by saying there is a reason the Vikings went from one of the worst tackling teams to the one of the best under Zimmer. Coaching does impact how players preform.

  2. The O lines that Musgrave had were better than what Norv has. Now, he is supposed to take that into account in his play calling. There’s got to be a lot going on behind the scenes that we don’t have any clue about. Zim is no idiot and he’s not a shrinking violet. He knows what’s wrong with his offense because no one is better at diagnosing offensive weakness and attacking it. He stated recently that he’s going to fix the o line… That’s the first time to my recollection that’s he’s said exactly that. They are a soup sandwich especially the right side. They run block better than they pass block. Looks like short passes are finally coming into the game plan but only sporadically. It will be interesting to see what Norv calls these next two games against a couple of playoff caliber teams. Maybe he’s been holding back??

    1. There is no way that the offense is currently more talented than it was when Ponder was QB.

      Backs: The fullback that Ponder played with, Felton, was MUCH better than Zack Line, in every way including pass blocking. If you don’t think that matters, watch a Vikings game. Peterson is as good as ever, so that’s a wash.

      TE: Rudolph was drafted the same year as Ponder, so that is a wash.

      WR: The wide receivers SHOULD be better, but are they really? If so, they certainly aren’t showing it, and it would be laughable Diggs is probably better than any wide receiver that Ponder played with, at least after Harvin left (and we can’t forget how much of Ponder’s passing production went through Harvin.) Ponder also had Greg Jennings in perhaps his final year as an effective WR, and it could be argued that Teddy used an older, crappier version of Jennings to greater effect as a rookie than Ponder did in his third year. This year, there is no Jennings, but there is Mike Wallace, who is Jerome Simpson 2.0. Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu, and Stephen Burton were pretty worthless (though Jenkins was a nice downfield blocker), but what have Charles Johnson and Cordarrelle Patterson done this year? Adam Thielen is a special teams ace, but he doesn’t provide much on offense. At the underwear olympics or on paper, Bridgewater’s current receiving core looks better than what Ponder played with in 2012-2013, but in reality I don’t see anyone who is getting consistent separation, but this is partly because there is so little time for routes to develop before Teddy has to throw the ball. If the current receiving core is better than what the Vikings had when Ponder was QB, and its hard to imagine that they are not, the offensive line has prevented them from showing it.

      O-Line: Give me a break. This line was horrible last year, and almost as bad this year. They can run block, but they can’t pass block to save their own lives. Ponder had elite Matt Kalil in 2012, and good but not great Kalil in 2013. He also had a healthy Loadholt, a healthy Sullivan, a healthy Brandon Fusco, and a mediocre Charlie Johnson, who I believe graded out about league average for most of his career. If memory serves me correctly, Loadholt and Fusco were both ranked in the top 5 or higher at their respective positions by PFF in 2012 and 2013. Sullivan is without question a top-10 center or better when healthy as he was in 2013.

      I know that PFF has given Joe Berger a good grade as Sullivan’s replacement this year, but he isn’t nearly as effective in pass protection or at calling protections, something that doesn’t show up in most grades. Kalil is much better than last year, but probably not on par with is first year (maybe with his second? I’m too lazy to look into it 🙂 Clemmings sucks, as most rookies who have only played the position for 2.5 years do. Harris, Berger, and Fusco have been mostly solid in run blocking, but liabilities in pass protection. I would guess that Fusco and Harris being new to their positions (especially Harris), Berger’s backup-level ability and age, and the entire lines lack of experience playing together probably hurts their performance as well. More than any other position group, o-lines need continuity, and they have none.

      Ponder had a much better offensive line, a much better fullback, and marginally worse receivers. It my opinion, it all comes down to the line. Pass protection allows routes to develop, receivers to get open, and playmakers to make plays. If you can’t control the line of scrimmage, you’ll be hard pressed to do much of anything on offense.

  3. This is silly. Ponder scored more points and got more yards because the defense was worse so the offense had literally no choice but to take risks and throw the ball around. If you have a defense like ours this year which can hold a top-five offense to 3 points over the course of the first 3 quarters, why the heck are you pushing hard for points, especially when you have a kicker who has been struggling? take a few yards off to make it easier for Blair and take the points, you have a great formula that has got you 8 wins (almost 9), which is a stiffling defense and a conservative yet opportunistic offense. why are you asking us to change a formula that has worked so well?

    and you are saying that turner shouldn’t be given props for AP being the leading rusher in the NFL? musgrave only got AP to be the leading rusher twice, and that was when AP was in his physical prime.

    as far as the naked bootlegs, i am assuming that you thought that matt ryan’s 3 uber-successful naked bootlegs were also very stupid yesterday? matt ryan is thought of as a statuesque pocket passer, not someone to avoid pressure, fairly equivalent to Hill in this regard. often the unexpected thing is the best thing to do in football, especially when there has been a massive momentum change. to criticize a play because of the outcome is just silly – the rams had been overpersuing all day, clearly none of us expected Hill to keep it on a bootleg, it was honestly just a great one-off play by the rams DE to play contain against his instincts. give credit where credit is due.

    1. I don’t hate the bootlegs, but I do when you ask your 35 year old quarterback to do so on his first play from scrimmage. Doesn’t make sense to me.

      1. Brent,
        I would agree about the Hill bootleg, I still think the OLs lack of pass blocking skill has really hamstrung Turner. A big reason why the WRs are getting no separation is the fact that Teddy doesn’t have the time to loosen them up with any deep balls. So, now the opposing DBs can just clamp down on the short routes. I really don’t like to second guess a guy like Turner…The only thing I may try is anytime there is a 1 on 1 on a first down, maybe just try and fool the D with a deep pass. If you do that at least 3-4 times a game, it may at least loosen the D a bit. However, I think that Turner mixes it up pretty well. The problem is with a power run based offense, you are going to run into a handful of third and 7-8 yd plays. This is when a GOOD pass blocking OL can have troubles….so it is always going to be trouble for ours to deal with. I say off season both through FA and Draft go after the best OL(Plural) we can secure….then safety….and hopefully a legit #1 WR. The first two I think are MUST haves.

    2. I don’t think the not pressing has anything to do with the defense. The name of the game is to score points. That sounds like Childress – logic to me.
      The WR have gotten open and Teddy has missed them. But most of the time he doesn’t have time to find the open guy. He plays safe, which is easier to deal with because the defense is so good. To think these coaches wouldn’t push it or have called plays to push it is severe case of myopia.

  4. From coach perspective. Zimmer & Norv relationship of trust and experience plus Zimmer being a lifetime coordinator and especially his belief in loyalty will prevent the Idea of replacing Norv from even being looked at.

  5. I totally agree with you here. I don’t want to completely turn on him but there are several horrible play calls each week and it seems like the entire offense has been underperforming all year. The thing that really drives me crazy is watching draw plays to Asiata on 3rd and 15 every time. Could we throw the ball just once? I still think he knows what he’s doing but I’m losing faith every week

  6. So you would rather, what, he hand off to AP, throw a 3 yard slant, or throw a screen? In other words, you would rather do exactly what the defense expects? It just seems like the point of this article is that maybe Norv isn’t good because everything isn’t perfect for our 8-3 team, which is just odd to me. Sometimes doing the opposite of what is expected is the best call, even when it doesn’t work, because then your opponent (and future opponents) are kept back on their heels, guessing. let’s say, god forbid, teddy gets shaken up in a future game, and now we need to bring in shaun hill for a few series; the future opponent now know that we aren’t going to tighten up the playbook, for better or worse, and they are kept guessing. super-conservative play-calling all too often has long-term consequences.

    besides, if the bootleg had worked, what are you the chances you are still bringing it up 3 weeks later? sometimes putting older qbs out by themselves works pretty neat. are you willing to say you would have hated the call if this had happened? http://cdn0.sbnation.com/imported_assets/1844403/nakedpeyton.gif

    sorry to be so negative about this, but i don’t see anything in your article which suggests possible solutions or specific reoccuring problems, but instead just a series of overarching possible conclusions based on a few plays that didn’t work (if teddy had put more air under his INT last game it probably would have hit rudolph for a TD – would you still be upset with norv over that play then?), which is to say that it just seemed like abject pessimism.

  7. If that’s the case how can you explain Musgrave ‘ s
    offensive production in Oakland as compared to.the Vike’s? What can’t people understand about needing a solid offensive line before expecting the 98 team’s production? Not fair to judge him with the line we currently have.

  8. What I like about this page is that it’s often hard to tell, because of the big words and strong vocabulary, if it’s an NFL blog or a Nom Chomsky thread. 🙂
    Word up guys!!

  9. Norv Turner led offenses in the past 4 seasons…

    2015: 30th
    2014: 27th
    2013: 18th
    2012: 31st

    I’ll just leave this here…

  10. I guess we will have to agree to disagree. Aside from bringing up basically 2 plays (which I do agree with you on) Please let me know what you think Turner could be doing differently to make this a top 10 offense. I would also like to add that Zims and Turner’s conservative play calling are probably responsible for a minimum of half of our wins. Trust me, no one wants to see Teddy get unleashed more than I do….but be patient. We have a good team right now….however….we still need pieces on both sides of the ball to be considered SB contenders. Until then…..let’s make the playoffs and see what happens.

  11. My response to your article is simple. Turner is not on the field, the players are. When the Vikings attempt to open up the passing game, Teddy is either reluctant to throw or the OL does not protect him adequately. You can criticize Turner all u want but until his protection is sufficient and his QB matures a little more there is nothing wrong with a dominating running game and a good defense.

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