A simple Google search for “Norv Turner Genius” will reveal all you need to know about an offensive coordinator with a long resume and reputation. For every positive story about Turner’s pedigree, there’s a negative article or comment in the other direction.
Turner this season has already been involved in those highs and lows — a nice week 1 plan and a 500-yard outburst against Atlanta, but four weeks in which the Vikings failed to top 300 yards or 10 points.
An offensive coordinator is a lot like a pitching coach in baseball — influential in dictating a lot of strategy and performance, but ultimately at the mercy of the athletes executing the plan.
Here, then, is an attempt to differentiate between the things that are relevant explanations for the Vikings’ offensive woes and which are just excuses, as they relate to Turner.
*Adrian Peterson: Four of the five games the Vikings have played without Peterson have been dismal. We can argue about the wisdom of building an offense around a running back in 2014, but we cannot argue about the influence of Peterson’s absence. Conclusion: 70 percent explanation, 30 percent excuse.
*Injuries: In addition to missing Peterson, the Vikings have also sustained key injuries at QB, tight end (Kyle Rudolph) and on the offensive line (Brandon Fusco). Rudolph figured to be a key member of the offense, while playing three starting QBs in the first six games is hardly ideal. That said, every team is going to deal with injuries during a season. Conclusion: 50 percent explanation, 50 percent excuse.
*Offensive line play: In two wins, the Vikings have given up 0 sacks. In four losses, Minnesota has allowed 22 sacks. There’s no doubt poor offensive line play has influenced the offensive woes, and Fusco’s injury has played a part in that. But if we’re doling out percentages based on what Turner and other offensive coaches have control over and what is beyond their control, offensive line play would seem to be coachable. Conclusion: 50 percent explanation, 50 percent excuse.
*Play-calling: This would seem to be something Turner has 100 percent control over and therefore there is no excuse, but it’s also influenced by how much confidence the offense has in the line play, the quarterbacks, the receivers and the running backs. You can only scheme so much. Conclusion: 30 percent explanation, 70 percent excuse.
Overall: Basically it’s a split. There are circumstances that have led to the Vikings’ offensive woes and hurt Turner in his ability to do his job … but they don’t fully explain why the offense has been as bad as it has been.
We asked Turner on Thursday how often he has gone from being a “genius” to “not a genius” in a short amount of time.
“Anyone who has coached a limited time or a long time in this league knows this is a week-to-week league, and every week presents a whole new set of circumstances, a whole new challenge,” Turner said.
As of now, there have been more down weeks than good weeks. If that continues, and the Vikings fail to adapt (and score), it will be more than fair to wonder if Turner should shoulder even more of the blame.
For the Vikings Week 7 road trip to Buffalo, we reached out to Jay Skurski, who covers the Bills for The Buffalo News, for this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines.” Here are five questions we asked Skurski about the game.
1. Has the offense been more efficient under quarterback Kyle Orton the last two weeks?
JS: The offense has averaged about a half yard more per play under Orton (5.1) than it did in Manuel’s two straight losses (4.55), so it’s been better, but not by a great deal. Orton, though, does have a significantly better completion percentage (66.7) and yards per attempt (7.49) than Manuel did (58.0 and 6.4, respectively), so the Bills are throwing the ball better since the quarterback change. The switch did sacrifice mobility at the position. Orton has been sacked seven times in two games, while Manuel was sacked just six times in four starts.
2. Why have the Bills struggled to run the ball with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson?
JS: You can divide that answer into thirds among the running backs themselves, the offensive line and the coaching staff and be pretty close to having the right answer. Spiller in particular has a bad habit of kicking runs outside when he should just take what’s in front of him. The offensive line, though, hasn’t helped either running back. Starting right guard Erik Pears has the lowest grade at his position in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, and rookie left guard Cyril Richardson is only four spots ahead. That has made running up the middle a big challenge. The coaching staff also needs to do a better job of getting the ball in Spiller’s hands in space, whether that be in the screen game or by calling more sweeps or runs of that nature.
3. What has made the Bills defensive line so good in pass rush situations?
JS: Start with the fact they’re just really good. Three of the Bills’ defensive linemen — Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams — made the Pro Bowl last season. The one who didn’t, Jerry Hughes, had 10 sacks. Mario Williams is a freak, plain and simple. There are very few players in the history of the game who have his combination of size, strength and speed. Marcell Dareus has developed into a do-it-all defensive tackle, adept at clogging running lanes and rushing the passer. Kyle Williams remains an excellent interior pass rusher, even though he’s dealing with a knee injury. Hughes has excellent speed off the edge and has come along as a run defender.
4. How have rookies Sammy Watkins and Preston Brown looked so far?
JS: Watkins has been up and down. He was the best player on the field in a Week Two win against Miami, and had a huge catch to set up a game-winning field goal against Detroit in Week Four. But the Bills haven’t looked his way often enough, including last Sunday when he wasn’t targeted in the first half at all against Darrelle Revis and the New England Patriots. He was slowed early in the season by bruised ribs, but is 100 percent now. I’d expect the Bills to look his way early Sunday. Brown has been a valuable defender specifically because of his versatility. He can play any of the three linebacker positions for the team, and has done so through the first six weeks. He leads the team with 45 tackles and has a fumble recovery. He’s also taken the most defensive snaps of any defensive player on the team.
5. What do the Bills need to do to win this game?
JS: Establishing the run game — which last year was the strength of the team — will be a top priority. The Vikings’ run defense numbers suggest that should be possible. On the other side of the ball, the Bills’ defensive line is surely licking its chops after Minnesota gave up eight sacks to Detroit a week ago. If the Bills can get the Vikings into difficult down-and-distance situations and bring the crowd to its feet, they should be able to harass a rookie quarterback making his first start on the road. If that happens, it could lead to turnovers — an area the Bills have had a good differential in this season.
Chad Greenway had full participation in practice for a second straight day, another sign that the outside linebacker will play against the Bills. But before head coach Mike Zimmer gives Greenway the green light, he wants to make sure Greenway is honest about his ability to play through pain.
“Yesterday we were in pads and he felt pretty good. We’ve done another test to see where he’s at hitting-wise and he looks pretty good, so I’m going to have to trust him with what he says,” he said.
Zimmer acknowledged there is concern about Greenway reinjuring the ribs he broke in Week 2.
As for whether Greenway will start, Zimmer only said, “My thought is that if he can play, he can play.”
Defensive end Corey Wootton (lower back), outside linebackers Gerald Hodges (hamstring) and Michael Mauti (illness), and tight end Kyle Rudolph (sports hernia surgery) did not practice today.
Defensive tackle Sharif Floyd, who practiced some yesterday, also sat out today with his ankle injury, though Zimmer didn’t seem to be too worried about his playing status for Sunday’s game.
Nose tackle Linval Joseph (ankle) and cornerback Jabari Price (hamstring) were listed as limited.
In addition to Greenway, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (hip), safety Harrison Smith (ankle) and tight end Chase Ford (foot) were listed as full participants in practice for a second straight day.