Anticipation is building for Monday night’s match-up between the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Giants. I don’t mean nationally because most people couldn’t care less about this game, and I don’t even mean in New York because the Giants stink and the fans there have already moved on to worrying about the Knicks. But in Minnesota, anticipation is building, and it’s all because of the guy lining up behind center.
Even if you think the Vikings are crap and the season is a write-off, you have to be at least mildly intrigued by the debut of Josh Freeman, don’t you? I realize Freeman hasn’t exactly lit up the stat sheet this year, but that environment in Tampa Bay, so toxic. Now he’s been freed from the Greg Schiano cesspool and is ready to show what he can really do.
Of course Freeman has his doubters in Minnesota too. Well, truth be told, most of the doubt is not being cast on Freeman himself but on the offense and specifically the guy calling the plays, one Bill Musgrave. Fans have optimism about Freeman it seems, but are skeptical of Musgrave’s ability to utilize his skills.
But let me flip the script on the Musgrave thing and suggest that maybe people are being a little too hard on the offensive coordinator. Because think about it. When has Musgrave had a QB with Freeman’s physical tools since he came to Minnesota? Donovan McNabb was done, Ponder is limited and Joe Webb is all-run, no-throw. And Matt Cassel is Matt Cassel.
For years now we’ve been hearing how Ponder’s growth as a QB was stunted by Bill Musgrave and his over-conservative approach. Maybe there’s something to that argument, but you can just as easily argue that Musgrave’s growth as an OC has been stunted by his lack of a physically gifted quarterback.
I’m not saying Musgrave’s detractors should suddenly reverse field and become Musgrave supporters, I’m just saying maybe Musgrave deserves the benefit of the doubt just a little bit. Give him a couple of games with Freeman and see how the offense runs. If it looks the same, then go ahead and bash him. Blame the whole fiasco on him if you want.
I’m not even here to defend Bill Musgrave, I’m here to ask what new wrinkles we might expect from a Josh Freeman-led Vikings offense. I think most of us believe that the plan will be to push the ball down the field more, since Freeman has a better arm than either Ponder or Cassel. At the same time, you have to look at the Vikings’ personnel and wonder who exactly is going to be on the other end of these hypothetical Freeman bombs.
I know Jerome Simpson is ostensibly our deep threat – he does line up as #1 split-end and the idea is to get him deep against one-on-one coverage – but I’m not sure I buy Simpson as a genuine downfield receiver. I picture a true modern-day NFL deep threat and I see the tall guy who splits the safeties with his speed and sometimes can use his height and strength to out-jump or out-fight defensive backs.
Jerome Simpson has his value, but he’s not the guy I just pictured. The one person on the roster who possibly fits that image is the rookie Cordarrelle Patterson.
There has been plenty of discussion in Viking Nation over the last several weeks about Mr. Patterson and the way he is currently being used – or rather not used – in the offense. Boiling it down? The fans would like to see Mr. Patterson on the field more, using his spectacular physical tools to break big plays.
Of course before the season we were told that Patterson was not ready to be a big contributor right away and would need some polishing. But we were also told that despite his lack of polish, there were ways to get Patterson involved in the offense, possibly in more of a Percy Harvin-type role. That Percy Harvin-style weapon scenario has not yet materialized and we have to wonder how much of this is Patterson not picking up the offense, and how much is just Leslie Frazier favoring other players over Patterson because Leslie Frazier doesn’t like playing rookies.
If it’s me – and I realize I have nothing on the line here except my non-existent reputation – I’m getting Patterson on the field one way or another. Maybe he’s not the guy to catch those Percy-style bubble screens and crossing routes, or run those Percy-like end-arounds. But we know he’s fast and tall and ought to be able to get down the field and make a few plays. And if not Patterson, who becomes that deep threat on this team?
It seems to me that, for this whole Josh Freeman thing to make any sense, you have to take advantage of that big arm, and that means finding guys who can stretch the field and make big plays. Cordarrelle Patterson at least physically fits the deep receiver profile better than anyone on the roster. So it would be sort of irresponsible, in my mind, for Bill Musgrave to not at least take a couple of shots with Patterson on deep routes in the next couple of games. Just to see. I mean what is there to lose at this point?
If Musgrave doesn’t at least try to open up the offense with Freeman, maybe not right away but as soon as Freeman becomes comfortable, then I will gladly join in the chorus of Musgrave-bashers. But until then I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. For the first time during his tenure in Minnesota, Musgrave has some legit receivers to work with and a potentially legit quarterback. Let’s see what he does with that.
Hopefully Cordarrelle Patterson is a big part of the plan. In a season going downhill, there isn’t very much left to engage the fans’ interest. People love Adrian Peterson but there’s a been there, done that quality with him. Yes people are intrigued by Freeman but you still need someone to catch the ball. If Freeman and Patterson can start hooking up on a semi-regular basis, then fans will have something new and exciting to grab onto. But that doesn’t happen unless you get Patterson on the field and give him a chance to shine.