Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, a Pro Bowl MVP following the 2012 campaign, has just six grabs over the Vikings' last three games.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport/USA TODAY Sports
The Vikings held off the Chiefs on Sunday, winning by a 16-10 margin despite an offense that operated in fits and starts.
Minnesota’s second-year quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater ended the day 17 for 31 for 249 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a passer rating (65.1) that was his second-worst of the season. Through five games this season, the 22-year-old signal-caller has 1,023 passing yards, a 64.4 completion percentage, three TD passes, four interceptions and a passer rating of 80.4. He’s on pace for a little less than 3,300 passing yards this season — not great by modern NFL standards.
Minnesota’s passing attack currently ranks 32nd in the NFL, averaging 179.6 yards per game.
As a result, Bridgewater was criticized and questioned on Twin Cities sports-talk radio Monday, after another so-so performance.
Here’s an overlooked fact, though: Aside from rookie Stefon Diggs (13 receptions over the last two games) Bridgewater isn’t getting much help from Vikings pass catchers.
The offseason’s big acquisition, Mike Wallace, had two catches on nine targets against Kansas City, continuing an inconsistent season in which he has 22 receptions for 256 yards and one touchdown.
Last year’s late-season revelation, Charles Johnson, has been rendered a non-factor in recent weeks due to a rib injury. Speedy fourth-year receiver Jarius Wright has yet to break out in 2015, with just seven catches so far. Tight end Kyle Rudolph, a Pro Bowl MVP following the 2012 campaign, has just six grabs over the Vikings’ last three games.
And the talented Cordarrelle Patterson? He’s almost exclusively a kick returner these days.
If Bridgewater looks uncomfortable of late, there are multiple reasons why. First of all, the Vikings’ offensive line has been shuffled repeatedly since right tackle Phil Loadholt endured a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury in Minnesota’s second preseason game, and the unit’s performance has been uneven this season.
It’s also worth noting that Bridgewater’s security blankets from 2014 have largely been ripped from his grasp. Bridgewater had solid options on checkdown screen passes last season, as running backs Matt Asiata (44 receptions) and Jerick McKinnon (27 receptions) combined for 71 catches. This year, that young duo has been largely pushed back to the sideline, to watch star Adrian Peterson receive a heavy workload.
And, pass receiving, historically, is not Peterson’s strong suit. Peterson has 10 receptions this season, for 89 yards. The veteran tailback has never had more than 43 catches in a season, and hasn’t had as many as 40 receptions since 2012.
All those aforementioned factors have grounded Minnesota’s passing attack at times this season. Bridgewater is averaging 7.01 yards per pass attempt, a number that pales in comparison to many of his NFC counterparts.
(note: minimum 100 pass attempts)
Granted, the Vikings didn’t need to turn to the airways much in their first two wins this year (against Detroit and San Diego), but the team’s passing numbers have to be a bit of a concern to Minnesota’s coaching staff, nevertheless.
Perhaps the Vikings will start utilizing their tight ends more in upcoming weeks (talented fifth-round draft pick MyCole Pruitt is still searching for his first NFL reception). Maybe speedsters like Patterson or McKinnon will eventually be utilized more on screen passes. It’s also not out of the realm of possibility that Wallace or Diggs will develop into deep threats while wearing Vikings fatigues.
Whatever the answer, the 3-2 Vikings must find a way to get their passing game rolling more consistently, if they hope to turn the corner and return to the NFL’s postseason.