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Mark Craig's Sunday Insider: Vikings offense establishes itself

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG
  • Star Tribune
  • October 6, 2012 - 7:05 PM

If you've only got a few minutes and you want to see how an NFL offense establishes an identity, check out eight consecutive plays from the Vikings' 20-13 victory at Detroit last week.

The Vikings led 20-6 when a Lions turnover gave them the ball at their 29-yard line with 4 minutes, 22 seconds left in the third quarter. Here's what happened over the next eight plays:

1. Adrian Peterson follows fullback Jerome Felton over left guard for 1 yard. Thirty-seven seconds tick off.

2. With eight Lions in the box, Peterson runs behind Felton. Right guard Brandon Fusco shoves Cliff Avril inside, Fusco chips the linebacker and Peterson explodes for 10 yards.

3. Peterson is dropped for a 1-yard loss up the middle. But 45 seconds tick away.

4. Peterson heads up the middle. Center John Sullivan and left guard Charlie Johnson maul tackle Sammie Hill, Peterson cuts right, the Lions miss a tackle and Peterson goes for 15 yards.

5. After a 5-yard encroachment penalty on the Lions, Toby Gerhart hammers into a Lions front that has a safety in the box. He gets 1 yard. Thirty-seven seconds disappear.

6. On the last play of the quarter, Peterson gains 3 yards with a safety in the box.

7. On third-and-1, Detroit has nine men near the line of scrimmage. Peterson slams over right tackle, breaking tackles. Linebacker Stephen Tullock ends up with Peterson's left shoe. He spikes it in frustration after Peterson goes for 5 yards.

8. With Peterson on the sideline putting his shoe back on, Gerhart comes in and churns his legs over right tackle for 4 yards.

Combined, those eight plays consumed 38 yards, three first downs and 5:50 of clock time. The only thing that didn't happen according to script was Blair Walsh missing a 46-yard field goal at the end of that drive.

Quarterback Christian Ponder called it "a good sign" when the team can run the ball that effectively on a day when he throws for only 111 yards.

"[Detroit] was going with a lot of single-high, putting a lot of safeties in the box trying to take it away, and Adrian kept running the ball really well," Ponder said. "The offensive line was opening up holes. And I think Jerome Felton is a guy who hasn't gotten a lot of recognition, but watching him on tape, he's done a heck of a job lead blocking for Adrian.

"It's important. We're a run-first team for sure, and that's kind of our identity. So it's important for us to establish the run and establish the line of scrimmage. We're going to keep doing it against every team we play."

Running the ball consistently in the NFL is difficult enough. Running it consistently when the other side knows it's coming? Well, that's darn near impossible.

That, according to Peterson, is what makes moments like the above eight-play sequence so satisfying and encouraging.

"You see the body language of the defenders, and they have a few choice words that may come out, as well," Peterson said. "Then in the third and fourth quarters, you see those guys not coming in with the same type of physicality on certain plays. That's when you know guys are shutting it down. We sense that."

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