Nothing in the Vikings' loss to the Colts Sunday can be pinned on the defense. Not only did the Vikes shut out the Colts for the entire first half, but they often stopped drives so early they provided the offense with excellent field position. As Mike Morris said on KFAN after the game, the Viking defense basically gave up two long pass plays. But if you're playing a team that can pass as well as the Colts can, and you're consistently stopping drives and allowing the offense to start drives near midfield, you have to expect the offense to give you more than a 15 point lead. You have to do something so that two long pass plays doesn't cost you the game.
The secondary played admirably, the pass rush was ferocious, and the run defense was smothering. Everything in the loss goes on the Viking offense.
Furthermore, nothing can be pinned on the running game. Adrian Peterson was dominant, and it took one half for Indianapolis to realize they didn't need to account for the passing game at all, and they could focus all their attention on stopping Peterson. Peterson can play great, but unless he's running for long touchdowns, he'll still need the Vikings to sustain and finish some drives with the pass.
No, the Colts' loss is entirely on the Viking passing game.
Can the Vikings put together a competent passing game during the 2008 season? I don't know if the pieces are there to do so. But it's obvious the passing game they have is a failure. I have a few suggestions for ways to possibly improve the passing game immediately.
1. Substitute Gus Frerotte for Tarvaris Jackson
We can make excuses for Jackson: his receivers aren't helping him, his coaches aren't helping him, there are successful pro QBs that weren't even playing in their third seasons, whatever. But what we're seeing is obvious:
--Jackson regularly throws passes so inaccurate his receivers have no chance to catch them.
--Jackson seems unable to pass from the pocket.
--Jackson's limitations severely limit what the Vikings are able to try do offensively.
I don't think Gus Frerotte, right now, is a good quarterback. I don't even think Gus Frerotte, right now, is an average quarterback. But we're not even looking for average! If Frerotte can be a replacement level game manager, able to occasionally threaten defenses with a deep pass, able to occasionally help finish drives with successful passing in the red zone, he can help this team win.
Jackson has done nothing to show he can be a successful passer in this league. We have to admit this, and move on.
2. Substitute Garrett Mills for Visanthe Shiancoe
At this point, when Visanthe Shiancoe drops passes in the end zone, we should be more angry at the Viking coaches than at Shiancoe. We know that Shiancoe drops passes regularly, so why do the coaches still call pass plays to him in key situations?
We don't entirely know what Mills can do, but we know what Shiancoe can't do, namely, catch the ball regularly. He's a negative presence on the Viking offense, and needs to be less used.
3. Call more pass plays on first down and more run plays on third down
Adrian Peterson is truly stunning: the defense knows what is coming, but Peterson still churns out positive yardage.
But what if there was more variety in playcalling? What if the Vikings passed on first down enough that defenses had to account for it? The passing game has more potential for successful plays on 1st and 10 than on 3rd down. And what if the Vikes ran the ball in situations like 3rd and 5? What might Adrian Peterson do if he gets the ball when the defense isn't counting on him getting the ball? And how might the passing game on 3rd down improve if defenses knew they had to account for runs to Peterson, too?
The Vikes have been awful on 3rd down; variety in playcalling may change that.
I don't know if the Viking passing game can be turned around right now. But it's obvious that they need to try something different if it is going to be turned around, and these are my three basic suggestions.