Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Where have you gone, Kyle Rudolph?

Two, 17 and 0.

Those are Minnesota Vikings starting tight end Kyle Rudolph's pass catching totals (catches, yards and TDs,respectively) the past three games. Ugly numbers, aren't they?

We read a lot during the offseason about how Rudolph was going to emerge as a pass catching force in his second year in the NFL. With his 6'6 height, long arms, jumping ability and meat hooks for hands, Rudolph was going to be a safety outlet for quarterback Christian Ponder – a beacon who could guide Ponder through those rough spots when nobody else was getting open, a target the second year QB could rely on when everything else was going to hell.

But Rudolph hasn't been that guy the past three games and what we're learning is that he is more of a complimentary player than a go-to type. He's a guy – because of the physical gifts I cited above – who is going to shine in a multifaceted offense that has other receiving options that take a defense's attention away from him. What he isn't going to do, but what the Vikings are asking him to do because they've got no other options, is be a playmaker even when defense's are designing ways to take away what he does best away.

So when I read tweets or comments from Vikings fans wondering why the Vikings coaching staff can't get Rudolph involved in the passing game lately, I think they're making an error. The Vikings are trying to get him involved, but there is a lot going haywire right now. Ponder is playing poorly, so drives aren't being sustained and he doesn't trust himself to throw to Rudolph when there is tight coverage. The offensive line has struggled in pass protection, so Rudolph's being asked to stay in and block a bit more than he did earlier in the season. And besides Percy Harvin, there is no wide receiver who can take the opponent's focus off of Rudolph. Add all that up and you get a Kyle Rudolph who has become irrelevant in the Vikings offense, which isn't ideal for a team that's got plenty of other players on the offensive side of the ball that are already irrelevant.

Crazy things I'd like to see
Sunday after the Vikings 30-20 loss to Seattle, Pacifist Viking called on the team to "Free Joe Webb."

I'm not in favor of the Vikings replacing Ponder with Webb. I do think, however, this week's game against Detroit is an opportunity to at least use him a bit. Webb is the best athlete on the Vikings roster and the team has tried to find unique ways to use that athletic ability the previous two seasons. This season, he hasn't had that kind of role, as the team wants him to concentrate on being a quarterback.

But with the Vikings looking like they will have to play Detroit without Harvin on Sunday, some trickery and outside-the-box gameplanning might be required to give this offense some juice. And Webb could be that juice.

It is a tricky thing exposing your only other QB (the Vikings have dressed two QBs all year) to injury by using him on some gadget plays. I'm intrigued with the idea of working on four or five plays featuring Webb to give the Lions some different looks and things to worry about. I really like the idea of running a couple of reverses with Webb giving him the run/throw option. And the reason I really like the idea is because of this equation: Joe Webb = explosive play potential.

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