Norv Turner's offenses are known for featuring a pounding ground game and an effective downfield passing attack. In Turner's debut as Vikings Offensive Coordinator last week in St. Louis, the rushing attack was as good as advertised, with the Vikings racked up 186 yards on 30 carries for a per-carry average of 6.2.
The downfield passing game was a different story, though. In fact, the Vikings were the only NFL team in Week 1 to not attempt a pass that traveled 21 yards in the air. Those anxious to see the downfield passing attack and those who prefer an aggressive play calling mentality were quick to point out two particular instances in which the Vikings turned down opportunities to turn loose the passing game.
Situation 1 (first series of the game)
3rd and 20 from the 35 (Adrian Peterson right tackle for 1 yard)
Result:Field Goal – 52 yards by Blair Walsh
Situation 2 (early 2nd quarter)
1st and 17 from the -13 (Jerick McKinnon run up the middle for 1 yard)
2nd and 21 from the -9 (Matt Asiata left tackle for 5 yards)
3rd and 16 from the -14 (Asiata up the middle for 5 yards)
Result: Punt – 48 yards, returned for -3 yards to the St. Louis 35
So why not throw the ball downfield to try and pick up the first down in those situations?
View images from the Thursday, September 11 practice at Winter Park.
"We didn't go into the game thinking that was a priority in St. Louis for two reasons," Turner explained. "The (pass) rush, and we weren't counting on getting a 67-yard run, but we were counting on getting some plays on those jet sweeps. They don't count as passing yards but when you start getting 20-yard runs, 60-yard runs they do take the place of some of those things you might do in the passing game."
Turner's logic makes complete sense. Keep in mind, the Rams feature one of the League's best defensive lines. RDE Robert Quinn had 19.0 sacks, 34 QB hits and 7 forced fumbles last year alone. LDE Chris Long had 8.5 sacks and 12 QB hits last season, as well. The Rams starting four defensive linemen in 2013 combined for 38.0 sacks, 61 QB hits and 9 forced fumbles. Why ask your quarterback to drop back seven steps and throw downfield against that front when you don't have to? A sack in either of the situations referenced above could've changed the game. A sack in Situation 1 puts the Vikings out of field goal range and prevents them from striking first, an important objective in any game but especially when you're on the road. And a sack in Situation 2, when the Vikings were backed up inside their own 10, could've resulted in a safety, a fumble or even worse field position from which Jeff Locke and the punt team would've had to operate.
Because Turner was disciplined in his play calling while playing a fierce opponent on the road in the season opener, the Vikings were able to salvage points on the first drive and flip the field position on the second drive.
But there's good news, all you anxious fans waiting to see Turner unleash his passing game. The Vikings play at home this weekend, meaning the opposing pass rush won't be aided by deafening crowd noise that makes it hard for the offense to get its snap count right. And Turner himself has said it's important for the Vikings to throw downfield.
"We need to be able to use our entire offense," Turner said. "We have been good throwing the ball intermediate, throwing the ball deep, and as we go through we just have to be able to do that or we'll have everyone at the line of scrimmage, so hopefully the opportunity presents itself and we can execute it."