Bye-Week Grades: Offense

Brad Johnson

With the Vikings on their bye week, it gives us a chance to look back at the first five games of their season – focusing primarily on what has and hasn't been accomplished during the regular season. Coaches grade out players, and it's time VU does it as well. Today, we look at the offense. Tomorrow, we'll grade out the defense and special teams.

QUARTERBACK -- Brad Johnson has been pretty much as advertised. He completes a high percentage of passes and doesn't make too many game-killing mistakes. In all five games this year, the Vikings have had a good chance to win in the fourth quarter. On the downside, Johnson's lack of deep arm strength has allowed defenses to pack in their safeties closer than they typically do and it has resulted in the Vikings being forced to throw a lot of short dump-style passes. With the Viking converting on roughly one of three third-down attempts, much more is needed from Johnson to make the 2006 season a success. He's received a passing grade, but there is a lot of room for improvement.GRADE: C-plus.

RUNNING BACK --
While not the flashiest back, Chester Taylor has become a workhorse. He's on pace to have 360 carries, which would shatter the Vikings' all-time single season record of 295 held by Robert Smith. Mewelde Moore has been used more as a receiver than a running back, coming in on third-down situations. Through five games, he has 13 receptions and just eight rushing attempts, putting the lion's share of the workload on Taylor. Ciatrick Fason has been almost non-existent and Artrose Pinner has never been given a full opportunity to contribute on the offense. As long as Taylor can continue to average 20 or more carries a game and pick up about 80 yards for his effort, he could well be worth the investment the Vikings made in him, but at this time it would seem that the running backs as a group aren't being utilized to their best ability. GRADE: B-minus.

WIDE RECEIVER --
The most underwhelming unit on the team, not just the offense. In the past 21 games, the Vikings have lost Randy Moss, Nate Burleson and Koren Robinson and that is difficult to overcome. The hope was that Troy Williamson would emerge as the big-play threat that Moss was and K-Rob potentially would have become. But his numerous drops of balls he should have easily caught has been a problem and he hasn't found the end zone yet. Travis Taylor has been a consistent "move-the-chains" type receiver, but isn't viewed as a top threat. Marcus Robinson leads the team with two touchdown catches but hasn't been in the game when the offense has been near the goal line, thought to be his strong suit on jump balls. Billy McMullen hasn't made a consistent contribution and newly-acquired Bethel Johnson will likely be used more as a return man than a consistent receiving threat. The Vikings have what appears to be a lot of solid No. 2 receivers, but without a legitimate No. 1 go-to guy, this unit has been a major disappointment. GRADE: D-plus.

TIGHT ENDS --
This was supposed to be a position that was a dominant one in the West Coast offense, but the Brad Childress variety WCO hasn't incorporated the tight ends nearly as much as many anticipated. Jermaine Wiggins has averaged 70 catches a year the last two seasons to lead the Vikings each year. He's on pace to catch about 50 passes this year. Jim Kleinsasser remains one of the game's top blocking tight ends, but his offensive contribution remains minimal. Richard Owens has the only touchdown of the group, but that came on a pass from kicker Ryan Longwell. This is a group that has talent and different skill sets. They just haven't been used to the optimum level. GRADE: C.

OFFENSIVE LINE --
This remains the centerpiece of the Vikings offense. After a very slow start, the group has shown improvement in recent weeks with the exception of the Buffalo game. The $20 million left side of the line – Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson and Matt Birk – have been solid, but not as dominant as many thought they would be. Newcomer Artis Hicks has struggled at times, but is growing into his new position at right guard. Marcus Johnson has struggled as a full-time starter and has committed too many penalties for the coaches' liking, but, he too, has been grading out better as the year has progressed. With an easier part of the schedule coming after the Vikings return with games vs. Seattle and New England, this group will be asked to dominate. If they do or not will go a long to determining whether the Vikings advance to the playoffs or not. GRADE: B.

COACHING --
Since Brad Childress does the play-calling, much of the onus for a predictable, small-gain offense lies with him. While the team has been creative on opening drives of games when plays are scripted, they have struggled once they settle into games – looking more not to make killer mistakes than to go for the throat of an opponent. While his discipline and structure have been major additions to the overall performance of the team, the offense's struggles remain a sticking point in a successful beginning to his head coaching career. Until Childress opens up the offense and has teams guessing more, the Vikings will continue to have low-scoring offensive days. GRADE: C-plus (as offensive coordinator); B-plus (as head coach).

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