Last week the Vikings announced the 2014 coaching staff, a group that includes Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. A veteran head coach and coordinator, Turner has 15 seasons as a head coach under his belt, and as offensive coordinator for Dallas he helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl XXVII and XXVIII. Since 2007, Turner's teams have ranked in the NFL's top five in offensive points three times and his system has produced the NFL's leading rusher on five different occasions.
With so much success building offenses through 30 years of coaching, you can be sure his strategies have varied. But there are some constants in Turner's approach. To find those constants, we'll focus particularly on Turner's last stint as head coach, which spanned from 2007-12 in San Diego, because that was his last opportunity to lay down the ground work and build upon an offensive foundation. Turner's Chargers won three division titles in this span, never finished worse than second in the AFC West and ranked in the top five in points scored in each season but one (2012).
Below are five things you can expect from Turner's offense in Minnesota…
1. High Yards Per Passing AttemptThere are a lot of ways to dissect a quarterback or a passing attack. Touchdown-to-interception ratio, completion percentage, passer rating…they are all effective metrics to reference when evaluating a team's production. Yards per passing attempt is another good one, as it illustrates how efficient an offense is in the passing game. A team could lead the League in passing yardage, but how effective is that accomplishment if the team also leads the League in passing attempts?
Turner's offenses have been both productive and efficient in throwing the ball, which has yielded impressive yards per passing attempt numbers. With Turner calling the shots in San Diego, the Chargers were never below 6.42 yards per attempt and in fact ranked No. 1 in the category three times during his tenure (8.39 in 2008, 8.68 in 2009, 8.72 in 2010). The Vikings have ranked in the top 10 just once since 2007 and last year ranked 23rd at 6.68 yards per attempt.
2. Size At Wide ReceiverA big part of Turner's offenses being able to ring up big-time numbers has been big receivers. In San Diego, Turner's top pass-catching wide receiver was Vincent Jackson, who measures in at 6-5, 230 pounds. Last year in Cleveland, Turner helped Josh Gordon, listed at 6-3, 225 pounds, lead the League in receiving yards with 1,646.
Good news for coach Turner: the Vikings have a big, young receiver of their own in Cordarrelle Patterson, who stands at 6-2, 220. Patterson has a unique blend of speed, quickness and size, and that is a combination that will serve him well in Turner's offense.
3. A Field-Stretching Tight EndAnother element of Turner's passing plan is a big, physical, field-stretching tight end who can present matchup nightmares for the opposing defense. These long, fast and strong pass catchers are too big for cornerbacks and too fast for linebackers, forcing a defense to either concede production or put a safety in coverage. This is a scenario Turner presented to defenses while in San Diego, using Antonio Gates to exploit the mismatch. In Turner's six years as Chargers Head Coach, Gates went to five Pro Bowls and averaged 62.8 receptions, 990 receiving yards and 8.2 touchdowns per season. In Minnesota, Turner will look to Kyle Rudolph to fill this role. Rudolph is a Pro Bowler himself and is coming off a season in which he missed eight games with a foot injury. You can be sure Rudolph is eager to get back on the field, and that Turner is as eager to employ Rudolph against opposing defenses.
The Vikings will welcome opposing defenses using a safety in coverage on Rudolph as opposed to putting that safety in the box as an extra defender to stop Adrian Peterson.
4. Physical Rushing AttackSpeaking of Peterson, Turner's offenses are not all about air production. He loves a punishing ground attack and, as mentioned above, five times Turner's offenses have produced the NFL's leading rusher, with Emmitt Smith doing it three times (1991-93)and Ricky Williams (2002) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2007) doing it once each under Turner's guidance. In Minnesota, Turner will have Peterson in his backfield and will turn the NFL's best running back loose on the opposition. If the opponents choose to stack the box to contain Peterson, you can count on Turner and Co. then turning to that efficient and explosive passing attack to exploit single coverage on the outside with Greg Jennings, Rudolph, Patterson and Co.
5. Shifty Scat-BackWe now know Darren Sproles as the do-everything running back/returner/receiver for the New Orleans Saints. But before Sean Payton and Drew Brees got their hands on the shifty Sproles, Turner was utilizing his diverse skill set in San Diego. While with the Chargers from 2005-10, Sproles was an electric playmaker who averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 9.6 yards per reception while scoring 17 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns.
In Minnesota, Turner has a bell cow in Peterson. While no one envisions Turner putting Peterson into a rushing attempt time share, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Vikings add a versatile playmaker in the mold of a Sproles for Turner to use similarly to how he used Sproles in San Diego.