Dec 23, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave coaches against the Houston Texans during the fourth quarter at Reliant Stadium. The Vikings won 23-6. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

The Joe Webb Gameplan: Why the Vikings Must Fire Bill Musgrave

Jan 5, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joe Webb (14) during the game against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Wild Card playoff game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

For one drive, the first drive of the game, in fact, the Vikings looked like they may have a shot to compete in the Wild Card round despite starting a backup quarterback against a superior team.

Joe Webb is what he is – a raw athlete with incredible speed and moves who can’t throw the ball with the normal accuracy or precision of a prototypical NFL quarterback.For one drive Bill Musgrave understood that and ran the read-option offense, an offensive staple of teams like the Seahawks and Redskins who have quarterbacks with the rare physical talent to weave their way through a field of super athletic tacklers, an offense designed to hide an athletic quarterback’s inaccuracy or inability to read a defense (or in Joe Webb’s case, both).

The Vikings first playoff game since 2009 started pretty well considering we had our backup quarterback behind center. The impossible-to-defend rushing tag-team of Joe Webb and Adrian Peterson drove us down the field with the read-option three times to the tune of 33 yards before finishing with a field goal and the lead.

But then Bill Musgrave took the game away from the legs of Joe Webb and placed it squarely on the arm of a quarterback who throws the bounce pass like he was tutored by Donovan McNabb.

And for that and so many other miscalculations over the past two years, Bill Musgrave must be shown the door.

After the first drive of the game, the Vikings ran just three more times out of the read-option. Of those three plays, the Vikings gained 32 yards. In total, the Joe Webb-led Vikings ran six read-option plays for 65 yards in 62 total snaps. Of all their other plays, 56 combined, the Vikings gained 252 yards (119 of those came on the final two drives when the game was long since out of reach). Essentially, the Vikings gained 65 yards on six read-option plays (10.1 yards/play) compared to 133 yards on 50 non-read-option plays (2.66 yards/play).

Good call, Billy.

There were times on Sunday I felt like Chris Kluwe angrily spewing venom for the liberal agenda. Same amount of curse words, just a different target.

Joe Webb proved throughout the game that he is still very raw completing just 7-24 passes for 62 yards before garbage time. So it’s not like the passing game was working – nope, definitely wasn’t working – we just continued to smash our heads against a brick wall.

Jan 5, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) stiff arms Green Bay Packers linebacker Erik Walden (93) during the third quarter of the NFC Wild Card playoff game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

And it wasn’t just Joe Webb who was benefiting from the read-option. With the added element of Webb’s running added into the mix, Adrian Peterson ran for 43 yards on his four read-option carries (10.8 yards/carry). All Day ran for just 56 yards on his other 18 carries (3.1 yards/carry). And yet Musgrave continued to put Webb in the shotgun or under center and drop him back and stand in the pocket to try and throw the ball.

Simply put, Joe Webb was told to run an offense he was incapable of running, the same offense the Vikings run with Christian Ponder.

Do you look at Joe Webb and think he can run the same offense as Christian Ponder? No? Well Congratulations! You are already a better offensive coordinator than Bill Musgrave.

It may be the least acceptable “gameplan” since Musgrave came on as offensive coordinator two years ago, and that laundry list includes a resistance toward tailoring an offense around one of the NFL’s most electric playmakers in Percy Harvin, consistently calling screen passes to our slowest offensive playmaker in Toby Gerhart and leaving the best running back in the game on the bench for numerous 3rd & 1 and 4th & 1-type carries (an atrocity that’s only recently been corrected).

Your pink slip should be arriving shortly, Bill, please start clearing out your desk.

Fans and analysts alike discussed the lack of development from Christian Ponder in his second year at quarterback, and while I think it is a little early to be giving up on a young guy at the most important position in sports, I can’t overlook the performances of rookie quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, who all had better years as rookies than Christian Ponder did in his second year.

Now those three rookies are all in very different situations than our own, but one thing holds true for those three – they have coordinators who have created an offense around their quarterback’s skill set. For RGIII and Russell Wilson especially, the offense is a running-quarterback, hybrid style tailored to their specific talents, the same offense that Musgrave needed to run with Joe Webb against the Packers in the Wild Card round.

But instead, Musgrave ran the same offense he runs with Christian Ponder – drop-backs from under center, shotgun passing and a heavy reliance on Adrian Peterson – a traditional (bland, boring, uncreative, unimaginative) offense.

Jan 5, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joe Webb (14) throws a pass in the second quarter of the NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

It really doesn’t seem like that hard of a concept. You have a guy that can do some things very well (run) and can’t do other things (pass, play quarterback, etc). So you give him plays and concepts (like, “run the ball, Joe”) that allow him to do the things he does very well and limit the things with which he struggles. Joe Webb can run; he can’t throw, so give him an array of plays that primarily showcase his ability to run and make plays with his legs. Simple.

Not for Musgrave, apparently.

With a coach like Musgrave, who either doesn’t have the chops or the willingness to tweak his offense to put Joe Webb and the Vikings in the best position to win in the playoffs, how can we trust him to be the guy in control of the development of Christian Ponder? How can we even trust him to be the guy in control of the offense on a weekly basis?

Ponder has made some strides this year, but certainly not as much as we were hoping or maybe even expecting. Is that on Ponder? Maybe he just doesn’t have the talent? I think it’s too early to say, but that could certainly be true. Either way, Ponder’s the guy for at least another year, and frankly, whether you like him or not, he needs to be the guy for the next decade because if he’s not, we have to start all over again.

But maybe Ponder’s lack of progress rests squarely on the shoulders of Bill Musgrave, whose unimaginative offense doesn’t adhere to the skill set of our young quarterback. Musgrave has proven he can’t adapt to utilize the talents of Joe Webb at quarterback for one game. How do we know Musgrave hasn’t hindered Ponder’s development by not working with him on an offense that works best for Ponder (and not one that Musgrave believes in, is comfortable running, etc.)?

Sounds awfully familiar doesn’t it? That’s because it’s the exact same problem we had with Brad Childress, who is as stubborn as they come and refused to tailor his offense to the running abilities of a quarterback he handpicked, Tarvaris Jackson, and later in Childress’ time as head coach of the Vikings, wouldn’t allow input on the offense from Brett Favre, one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.

Christian Ponder has now been in the league for a full two seasons, and while he has progressed some, he still makes

Jan 5, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (7) stands on the sidelines before game against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Wild Card playoff game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

repeated mistakes that err on the side of ridiculous for a man whose livelihood is throwing a football. Ponder sometimes has bad mechanics and often sees his mechanics break down entirely with pressure. On deep balls, with or without pressure, he often doesn’t step up into the throw, standing flat-footed and kind of lurching awkwardly in a woefully inaccurate heave downfield. Ponder also has this seemingly ingrained belief that anything is better than taking a sack, and he (and Joe Webb, apparently) will carelessly throw the ball up for grabs if he is close to being sacked.

Maddening stuff. Problems that should be corrected by the guy in charge of Christian Ponder’s development.

And yet they haven’t been fixed.

Let me be clear. I believe, at this point, both Bill Musgrave and Christian Ponder have failed at their jobs. But Ponder gets more time to prove he can be the guy because:

1. He is still very young and has a lot of room to grow.

2. The Vikings have invested much more in him.

3. He is the one who has to do his job while 300-pound men try to squish him like a bug.

Coincidentally, No. 3 is exactly what I was wishing on Bill Musgrave for 3 ½ quarters of the Wild Card matchup against the Packers.

It comes down to one simple fact. It sets our franchise back at least five years to give up on Ponder and zero to give up on Bill Musgrave.

We need an offensive mind that can actually work with the roster we have to create a system that is tailored to our players and brings out the best in them, not one that rams its head against a brick wall hoping to break through one day.

Because, let’s face it, that day will never come.

Bill Musgrave needs to be fired. The sooner the better. For the sake of Christian Ponder, the offense and the team as a whole.

Okay, that’s it, this has gone on long enough. Call security. Tell them we need Musgrave escorted off the premises immediately.

 

 

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