Question Of The Week

VT Question of the Week: Time Running Out for Norv Turner?

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:

[quote_center]”Pass to score, run to win.”[/quote_center]

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.

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Austin Belisle

Austin Belisle is the West Coast's biggest Vikings fan, a football diehard cheering on the purple and yellow from sunny California. After graduating from San Jose State University in 2014, he began working full-time in corporate marketing and blogging on various sports websites. Austin's passion for the Vikings led him to Vikings Territory, where he hopes to share his lifelong enthusiasm for the team with readers on a daily basis. You can follow him on Twitter @austincbelisle

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  1. I would like to also submit the possibility of Randy Fichtner, quarterbacks coach for the Steelers. He was a wildly successful OC at Memphis, then very successful as the Steelers receivers coach (the Steelers consistently have developed late round receiver gems since 2007), and has refined Big Ben into arguably the best play of his career these past few years.

  2. Buehler? Buehler? Yankey?? Davidson doesn’t seem to be particularly successful in developing offensive linemen. He’s had this group together for 12 games and they have regressed recently. Zim seems to get more out of his defensive players than Norv does.

    Bottom line, win or go home. If Norv can’t put up the offensive numbers then you’ve got to find someone who can. There’s no tomorrow in the NFL. Next year never comes. Get it done or get out!!

    1. I was under the impression that Davidson had been credited in the past with the development of both Sullivan and Fusco.

  3. I would love if we could get Watson, however that would not only be a bold move, but also a hard move to pull him up from the college ranks. Also if would be very dooming if it didn’t work out, since the offense would be hand picked to Bridgewater.

    Also how would Adrian Peterson succeded in that kind of offense, how much would be in the gun? would he be critiziced for not giving the ball enough to peterson, at the right time?

  4. Wasn’t Shawn Watson relieved of play calling by Charlie Strong after his first game at Texas, though? I’m very afraid of the idea of hiring an offensive coordinator who doesn’t call plays (nightmare flashbacks to Brad Childress)

  5. The real issue is that the RB and QB are not complimentary of each other’s strengths. AP can only produce out of the traditional set, is ineffective at running from shotgun (1.5 yards / carry), and very suspect in pass pro. TB is better out of the shotgun than under center. By the end of last season, TB was a Top 10 QB running the majority of snaps from shotgun (just like the rest of the league, which averages 60% of snaps from the shotgun). Because the Vikes rely so much on force feeding AP the ball from the traditional set, you try to use play action for passing (in theory is a good idea, but in practice, not so much). Play action causes deep drops by the QB and does not allow the QB to keep eyes downfield. In addition, any run blitz (which teams do alot of against the Vikings) on a play action pass turns automatically into a passing blitz (which is happening while the QB isn’t looking). Add this to an average OL and you’ve got trouble. So the team needs to choose between TB and AP. They cannot coexist. So which do you choose? The 30 year old, one-dimentional, HOF RB, or 23 year old QB who showed glimpses of greatness last year? This is a QB league. In my opinion, it is time to build around a QB, not a RB.

    Pass ranking since 2007 (AP’s rookie year)

    2007 28th
    2008 25th
    2009 8th
    2010 26th
    2011 28th
    2012 31st
    2013 23rd
    2014 28th
    2015 31st

    9 years prior to building around AP

    2006 18th
    2005 20th
    2004 2nd
    2003 4th
    2002 9th
    2001 7th
    2000 7th
    1999 5th
    1998 1st

    1. I’d say the crappy passing offense splits pre and post AP has more to do with the loss of Moss and unexpected loss of Culpepper. I mean look at the QB’s we’ve had since 2007, T-Jack, McNabb, and Ponder. Also, AP was out for the 2014 season.

  6. Sorry, but you guys are not even asking the right question, and some of you know that.

    The basic problem with this offense is that the two primary players (Bridgewater and Peterson) have games which do not mesh well together. Throwing them together on a team and asking the offensive coordinator to somehow make their games compatible is asking for the impossible.

    Peterson is a one dimensional player, which has been well documented. His game is limited to lining up in the I formation and taking hand offs. He does not care to block in the passing game. He is mediocre as a receiver. By his own admission, he doesn’t like to run from the shotgun or the pistol. One thing we should all be aware of by now is that Peterson feels entitled to not do something if he doesn’t like it.

    In short, Peterson fails to meet the criteria that is normally expected of any running back in the passing dominated NFL which exists in 2015. He could get away with all these deficiencies…if it was the 1970’s or 1980’s. Rolling back the calendar, however, seems unlikely.

    Yes, he leads the NFL in rushing. Who cares? He does that by hogging the ball, demanding an excessive number of touches, and then calling out the coaching staff when he does not get them, even when the Vikings are trailing by 21 points.

    The roughly 1,200 yards he has is pretty meaningless in a passing dominated league where yardage is gained in enormous chunks. He gains those yards against mediocre teams. When the chips are down and he has to face the kind of teams the Vikings need to beat in order to make a playoff run, he flat out fails. See the Green Bay and Seattle games for the pertinent stats.

    His character issues are well known, but it is quite obvious that some of the Viking fan base views those character issues as positives. The fact that those fans hide behind a religion to justify those beliefs simply speaks to the general decline of American civilization.

    In short, the Vikings need to decide what their identity is on offense, and move either Bridgewater or Peterson, because they cannot coexist in the kind of offense required to make a run at the Lombardi. That presumes, of course, that the Vikings want to make a run at the Lombardi. Perhaps they are satisfied with merely being a platform for Peterson to rack up rushing yards, because a cold, hard assessment of the Vikings says that is all the team really is right now.

    1. Leaving aside the arrogance and self-righteousness of your cultural opinions – not to mention the internal contradiction of arguing that American civilization is declining when the religious practice and belief you identify as a marker of that decline is also, in fact, declining – I’d just like to point out that we have actually won the games this season where Peterson has run successfully, mediocre opponents or not.

      What I see is that the Green Bay and Seattle losses have given the folks who loathe Peterson and would like to have seen him hounded out of the league and branded with some kind of scarlet letter or two the license to pop up again and blame team failures on Peterson alone (I was wondering where you had gone, Mr. Kano). If you think the offense was primarily to blame for the Seattle loss, Mr. Kano, you are clearly wearing a great big set of blinders.

      While I don’t see as many games as the rest of you because I live out-of-state, so I can’t say that Peterson is consistently a good blocker, but I’ve seen him pick up more than a few blitzes in the last nine years, up to and including last night’s game, so I’d hardly say he doesn’t “care” to block. And yes, Peterson is a mediocre receiver, but so was Robert Smith (coincidentally, an atheist like myself) and the 90’s were a pretty pass-friendly decade, too. Top-flight running backs who are so-so receivers can still carry teams pretty far into the playoffs when there are comparable weapons around them, as we saw in both 1998 and 2009. We may have a problem with meshing Bridgewater’s and Peterson’s games, but trashing Peterson as both a player and a person doesn’t help that discussion.

      1. Peterson has picked up more than a few blitzes but he’s messed up more than a lot. Also, don’t say Robert Smith carried the 98 team to the playoffs. He was good, no doubt, but the QB and 2 receivers on that team are Hall of Famers (I included Moss because he obviously will be).

        I don’t think he really trashed Peterson as a player. He’s overvalued right now. He doesn’t fit the scheme and he has been complaining nonstop for almost a year now. He’s the best running back we’ve ever had in Minnesota but that doesn’t mean he’s not allowed to be criticized

  7. if the Ravens finish 4-12 (a distinct possibility), they may fire John Harbaugh, which would then free us up to poach Marc Trestman… I wouldn’t mind bringing him back home to Minneapolis as our offensive coordinator

    1. I really doubt the fire Harbaugh after 1 bad season. He has shown too much, and won too much to be fired with just 1 really bad season.

  8. Remember how we ran Darrell Bevell out of town? Guess he got a lot smarter when he arrived in Seattle. Pretty hard for me to accept that Norv Turner doesn’t know enough about offense to be a good OC, although I will admit I had higher expectations. I’m wondering…, if we can’t truly judge our QB due to our inadequacy in the Oline, can the same be true for the OC? Just wondering.

    1. My issue with Turner is that he doesn’t change his gameplan to fit player’s strengths. I think he’s a great OC but this team doesn’t seem like a good fit

  9. Great comments guys. No question our offensive coaching staff has been peiced together from different coaching trees and philosophies, so, it should come as no suprise that the by-product shows up on the football field.

    Davidson and Turner are from two different systems! I think one needs to go. Charlie Weis is a guy that could work well with Davidson. I’m ok with the EP system Austin talks about especially if the Vikings keep Davidson and reunite him with Charlie Weis. Weis was a guy on my radar two years ago.

    But at this point, it is time to let Mike Zimmer call the shots and let him put his entire offensive coaching staff together.

  10. The coaches keep telling us it’s “Teddy’s team” so if that is truly what they believe then they need to build around him and part ways with AP,the two just don’t fit together.
    Time to give McKinnon and Asiata more carries as they both run well out of shotgun,can catch and block better than AP.
    Time to get Mike Tice back to coach up the OL.

  11. I’m mostly in favor of Norv. It’s not his fault the O line stinks. Just the same, if Scott Turner would be a really good coordinator, let’s promote him now and let Norv be his assistant. We’d still get all of Norv’s wisdom with some fresh ideas. This of course assumes a lot about Scott.

  12. Norv’s offensive plays take too long to develop, witness last play in the desert, I not sure Bridgewater wil ever be suited to the vertical game. We need Jerry Burns!

  13. Appreciate all the feedback, guys. I’m glad we could spark a conversation on the topic!