Wednesday, January 06, 2010

More Support for Vikings' Pass-Oriented Game Plan

It's not a pass-happy or even a pass-first philosophy. Rather, what many Minnesota Vikings' fans and commentators have been calling for since the Mike Tice era and, even more particularly, in the Brett Favre era, is a passing-rhythm offense. The difference between the three forms of passing offense is that while the pass-first and pass-happy are readily defended, the passing-rhythm offense is extremely difficult to defend if the quarterback is making the proper reads and delivering the ball to receivers, all of which Vikings' quarterback Brett Favre has done this year when allowed to stay in a rhythm.

When the Vikings try to "get the running game going," however, things begin to break down. That's not an argument against running the ball, particularly for a team with two gifted running backs. Instead, it is an argument for using the running play judiciously--in somewhat the same manner that Vikings' head coach Brad Childress, in his heart of hearts, would prefer that his team employ the passing game.

In addition to the clear anecdotal evidence supporting the passing rhythm offense, however, there is statistical evidence arguing against the run-first offense, at least for this year's Vikings' team.

From week three through week twelve, the Vikings' offense was almost unstoppable, stalled only against the Steelers on the back of turnovers and penalties. Following a loss to the Cardinals, there was a sea-change in offensive game plans for the Vikings, however, with conservative play-calling clearly winning the day. Those plans led directly to two more losses in the team's subsequent three games.

Against Carolina, it appeared that the issue had come to a head between quarterback Brett Favre and Childress, with the two spotted arguing on the sidelines. Both parties later confirmed the dispute, a disagreement centering on the role of the quarterback within a system mostly dead-on-the-vine in the passing game prior to Favre's arrival.

What was not resolved against Carolina certainly was in the second half of the Chicago game, with Favre twice waving off substitutes. The team began last week's game against the Giants in much the same fashion as it had finished the game against the Bears--throwing passes to different receivers at different points on the field, including beyond the sticks on third down, spreading the offense in goal-line situations, mixing cadence and snap count, and hurrying to the line to keep the defense scrambling. It was how the West Coast offense was meant to be run and it was how the Vikings, with Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, Visanthe Shiancoe, Chester Taylor, and Adrian Peterson, ought to be able to perform against any current NFL defense, at least when the offense is orchestrated by Favre.

Not lost in the new philosophy that one hopes the Vikings have adopted is the diminished role of Adrian Peterson. Contrary to most reports, it is a role that Peterson has earned--at least in part.

Far too often unable to find holes that his counterparts in the league seem capable of finding when running behind weak offensive lines and against eight-men boxes--Jamaal Charles, Jerome Harrison, Steven Jackson, Cedric Benson, Thomas Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, and Jonathan Stewart, immediately come to mind--Peterson simply has not been the threat this season that he was in his rookie season. Though finishing with 1,383 rushing yards this season, Peterson settled well behind league leader Chris Johnson, who finished the season with over 2,000 rushing yards, fumbled more times than any other running back in the league, and scored the bulk of his touchdowns in goal-line situations.

By the end of the season, there were at least twelve running backs that merited greater concern on the field than Peterson. That does not diminish Peterson's abilities, it merely points out his limitations in the current environment--one in which he is rarely used in the open field.

Clearly, where Peterson will be most valuable going forward is either behind a massive and nimble offensive line--of which there are few if any in the NFL--or in the short passing game, where he is nearly unstoppable. If the Vikings continue with their rhythm passing offense and incorporate Peterson more greatly into that game plan, they, too, might be unstoppable in this year's playoffs, and Peterson's running abilities will be viewed as a substantial complement to his even more impressive short-yardage receiving skills.

Up Next: The NFL's Stake in a New Vikings' Stadium.

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