Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Slightly Less Offensive

Today I’m continuing my season preview with a look at the Vikings’ offense, after previewing the special teams yesterday. As much fun as it was watching every other unit but the offense score last season, they shouldn’t have to rely on the defense and special teams as much for points and field position this year.

Offensive Line: Bryant McKinnie-LT, Steve Hutchinson-LG, Matt Birk-C, Artis Hicks-RG, Marcus Johnson-RT

The offensive line should be a vast improvement over last year’s. The return of All Pro center Matt Birk, when combined with the signing of Steve Hutchinson and the rebuilt right side means that only Bryant “The Giver” McKinnie returns from a line that endangered Brad Johnson’s life and averaged only 91.7 rushing yards a game despite facing opponents that allowed an average of 116.1 yards per game on the ground. While they haven’t gelled yet, as the Vikings’ poor preseason rushing totals show, they’re still a huge improvement over last year’s line. The sooner they gel, the more likely the Vikings are going to have a competent offense, as the new West Coast offense is dependant on the running the ball.


Quarterback: Brad Johnson

Let’s get this straight—Brad Johnson does not win the Vikings games. BJ is a game manager, nothing more, nothing less. Now, I’m not saying he’s a bad quarterback. My point is that he wasn’t responsible for the Vikings’ turn around last season as much as the defense forcing turnovers, Koren Robinson’s rejuvenation of the return squad and the drop in the quality of opponents was. That doesn’t mean the Vikings can’t win with him, or that they win despite him, but rather that his job is to not to win the game for the team, but is instead to turn the ball over and make the open play. He’ll be better in Childress’ West Coast scheme, since it will help hide his weak arm, but in the end, he is to the Vikings’ what Mark Brunell is to the Redskins, or Trent Dilfer was to the Ravens in 2000. The Vikings can go far with him behind the center, but only if the running game, defense and special teams take them there.


Running Back: Chester Taylor

To put it mildly, Chester Taylor has not impressed so far this preseason. To put it bluntly, he’s been awful, carrying the ball 37 times for only 2.6 yards. That is not good, not good at all. The question is whether his poor performance is due to some combination of his adjusting to a new team, a new role as the feature back, and a line that is still a work in progress or because he just isn’t that good. My feeling is that he’s a better back than he’s shown, since he’s averaged over 4 yards a carry in his 373 career attempts and his backup, Ciatrick Fason hasn’t had much more success carrying the ball. Whether or not Taylor steps up and becomes a 1000 yard back will be the difference between an awful offense and an average one, and likely the difference between the playoffs and another high draft pick.


Full Back: Tony Richardson

Tony Richardson should help the Vikings’ running game. He’s a veteran fullback and I think he’s going to enjoy the challenge that linebackers like Brian Urlacher, A.J. Hawk and Boss Bailey provide him. That being said, he doesn’t really add much as a receiver, so the running backs and tight ends will have to pick up his slack. Since the Vikings didn’t really have a full back last year, he has to be an improvement and regardless, his experience should be a boon to the team this year.


Wide Receivers: Troy Williamson, Travis Taylor, Marcus Robinson, Todd Pinkston/Kevin Kaspar

This is probably the weakest position the Vikings have offensively. They lost their two best receivers from last year, one to karma and one to a drunken Steve McQueen impersonation. The position isn’t barren, however, as there is some potential here. Troy Williamson should be more comfortable in the new offense than he was last year, especially with a year playing at NFL speed under his belt. Travis Taylor and Marcus Robinson have both played well this preseason also. Whether the Vikings use Todd Pinkston and Kevin Kaspar as their fourth receiver isn’t going to make or break the receiving core and the addition of Pinkston adds both depth and experience. If the Vikings were still running Mike Tice’s “offense”, these receivers would worry me a lot more than they do. Childress’ offense isn’t as reliant on stud receivers, which is easy to see when you look at the Eagles teams he coached. A great receiver might be necessary for the offense to reach its full potential, but it’s something the Vikings can worry about later, after they’ve finished rebuilding the team.


Tight End: Jimmy Kleinsasser, Jerome Wiggins

Kleinsasser and Wiggins provide different looks at tight end, but both are quality players who can run block and catch passes. Kleinsasser is better at the former, Wiggins at the latter. Their ability to maintain their production will be a key to the Vikings’ passing game, especially considering the weakness of the receiving core.



The Vikings should be better on offense this year, but don’t expect them to look like the offenses from 1998-2000. Brad Johnson is a good fit for the new offense, and it’s a good fit for him as well, emphasizing good decision making and accuracy, rather than arm strength. The line has a lot of talent on it, but if it doesn’t do a better job of opening holes for the running backs, there are going to be as many games where the Vikings need an interception, punt and kickoff returned for a touchdown as last year. Zygi’s signing of Darrell Bevel, a real life offensive coordinator may end up being the biggest addition to the offense, however, and I expect that the offense will have a lot easier time putting points on the board with a full time coach.



cheswick said...

biggest reason for optimism for me anyway - getting Birk back! I just think the line was totally lost last year without him. You know the old saying "you won't see any bad teams with a good O-line and you won't see any good teams with a bad O-line." (That's ok if you haven't heard it before, I just made it up.)

Seriously though, even a crap QB can do ok with a decent line. Think about what kind of success Carr might have in Houston if he had anyone who could block. Think about how Dilfer got the Ravens to a SB behind a decent line.

Matt Birk - stay healthy, ya big lug!

TBird41 said...

I agree completely. If Birk had been healthy last year, the whole season would have been different and likely more successful. Once he gets comfortable with Hutchinson, the holes on the left side are going to be so big the Vikings can hand the ball off to whomever they want.