Message boards are not kind to Bill Musgrave. He is the e-piñata for the Vikings offensive struggles, second in the firing line of frustrated fans, placing just behind Christian “Maybe your wife can teach you how to throw”* Ponder. Is the former Oregon Duck standout really to blame for Team Purple’s offensive blues?
Let’s look at what he has to work with. It seems to be accepted at this point that the Vikings have the NFL’s shoddiest group of wide receivers. Michael Jenkins has been gritty, but any speed and suddenness he once had is long gone. Jerome Simpson. Enough said. Devin Aromashodu demonstrated his ball skills or lack thereof in the second quarter of last Sunday’s game, and to add insult to injury only really ever looked legitimate when he was torching the Vikes on Monday night in 2009. Jarius Wright has shown some skill but is very raw. Even when Percy Harvin was breaking tackles for fun, he is not a conventional set-up shop by the sideline and run the entire route-tree kind of guy. This is not intended as a slight against #12, because he is capable of playing flanker, but he is not the game changer there that he is when lined up nearer to the core of the formation. This is how Musgrave was using him. Indeed, Percy Harvin was on pace for his best season as a pro until that nasty ankle sprain.
As for the tight ends, we have not seen the dynamic duo imagined when the GM would literally not let John Carlson out of the state of Minnesota. While the 25 million dollar man has not held up his end of the bargain, Kyle Rudolph has been a bright spot. 8 touchdowns is nothing to sneeze at. The red zone reindeer is no Gronkowski, however. It does not seem he has the fluidity or speed to be an elite tight end, and would prosper if Minnesota could plausibly spread the field.
Despite all this, and a quarterback who does his best Bill Bojangles Robinson imitation in the pocket, Musgrave has made lemonade from lemons. The minimal success the passing game has experience is based on scheming. Take the game at Solider Field. Rudolph had one of his better days. Just about every ball he caught saw him as wide open as a Chinese restaurant on Christmas eve. This was not #82 making killer cuts, but flat routes that saw yeoman Rhett Ellison repeatedly blow up the defender assigned to Rudolph. How about the next game? The wheel route ran by Adrian Peterson 20+ yards downfield was a stroke of genius. The QB couldn’t connect. Putting the under-utilized Jerome Felton in pattern worked like a charm. As recently as last week, he drew up that brilliantly executed pass to Wright coming out of the backfield.
As for the running game, it seems pretty clear that that baby is rolling on all cylinders. Credit a Canton-bound halfback, and an organizational decision to emphasize heavy sets (see acquisitions of Carlson, John Felton, Jerome and Ellison, Rhett). Do also credit Musgrave, who has utilized said heavies in a variety of formations.
I won’t ignore the flaws. The play calls are often frustrating – especially when the result is hair-brained. Yes, you may ask yourself why is Christian Ponder taking to the air on first down in the red zone, but remember he had never thrown an interception in said zone during meaningful game time. Moreover, the coaching staff has been given direction to take the temperature of this quarterback, to assess what he can and cannot do. Often, that may conflict with winning. Just don’t blame Musgrave.