The Minnesota Vikings started the 2013 season on a low note Sunday, losing 34-24 to the Detroit Lions despite the Lions making every effort to give them the game in the first half. One storyline coming out of the game has surrounded how rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson played just five of 56 offensive snaps as the passing game, outside of Jerome Simpson’s seven catches for 140 yards, struggled to get on track.
There were concerns entering April’s draft about Patterson’s ability to grasp an NFL playbook, with only one season of major college football under his belt, and he was limited in practice last week by a back injury. But head coach Leslie Frazier said neither thing was an issue on Sunday, chalking up Patterson’s lack of offensive snaps to a “coach’s decision.”
Patterson did catch his only target, and the fact he served as Minnesota’s kickoff returner against the Lions seems to confirm that last week’s back problem was not a concern.
The idea behind drafting Patterson, as well as signing Greg Jennings in free agency, was to put quarterback Christian Ponder in a better position to succeed in his second full season as the starter. But if the coaching staff refuses to even put Patterson on the field, let alone try to get him some touches, that may have a negative effect on Ponder’s play. Frazier suggested that the Vikings’ offense needs to sustain drives better for Patterson to see the field more, and that seems fair with six of their 13 drives against Detroit ending before even one first down could be attained.
Ultimately it feels like the Vikings’ coaching staff is attempting to pigeonhole Patterson into a certain role, just as they did with Joe Webb and Jarius Wright in recent years. It took a poor performance in last season’s playoff loss by Webb to convince the coaches he should not exclusively play quarterback, and he was finally switched to wide receiver prior to this season.
Wright was out early last season with an ankle injury, but once he was healthy enough to play he remained inactive on game days for a number of weeks. Percy Harvin’s ankle injury, which ended his season and ultimately his career in Minnesota, finally allowed Wright to suit up for the final seven regular season contests and Minnesota’s playoff game. It seems the fact Wright and Harvin have similar physical builds, and theoretically would be used similarly, made it hard for the coaching staff to envision having both on the field at the same time. Frazier never exactly confirmed or denied that he and his coaching staff were that narrow-minded, especially given the lack of talent the team had at wide receiver last season, but evidence suggests that was the case.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave deserves some blame, since he lacks the imagination to do something as audacious as calling a pass play on first down, but the way the Vikings put limits on talented players starts with Frazier in my opinion. Apart from a significant injury or obvious ineptitude, failure to put Patterson on the field more going forward will serve as another symbol of the shortcomings of the current coaching staff.