Jerome Simpson is eligible to return to the Vikings this week after serving his three-game suspension. Presumably, he'll provide a vertical deep threat and remove some of the consternation that has swirled around the Vikings' passing attack.
"Let's party," Percy Harvin said of Simpson's return. "It's another weapon. We'll welcome him back."
With open arms surely. Simpson's return undeniably is a positive and significant development, but it shouldn't obscure one other fact: The passing game already is in pretty good hands with Harvin and tight end Kyle Rudolph as primary targets.
The Vikings proved Sunday they can move the ball effectively without necessarily relying on long bombs if they utilize a creative mix of plays designed to get the ball in Harvin and Rudolph's hands as much as possible. Simpson's presence should only accentuate that by drawing some attention with his outside speed.
The Rudolph-Harvin tandem helped keep the San Francisco 49ers' aggressive defense off balance in a 24-13 victory at Mall of America Field. Christian Ponder targeted the duo a combined 17 times, completing 14 of those passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
Their tag-team performance demonstrated once again that Harvin is the NFL's best wide receiver in space and that Rudolph -- at 6-6 and 260 pounds -- presents matchup problems, particularly near the goal line.
"The more completions you can get on a defense ... that puts a lot of stress on them," Rudolph said. "That's a defense that's not going to give up the 40-yard bomb. They're very disciplined. They don't give up the big play. We just have to be responsible enough to take the chunks and move the ball."
The Vikings' dearth of deep shots down the field in their first two games became a primary talking point with fans and media last week. They didn't open up the offense against the Indianapolis Colts until pressed into catch-up mode in the second half. Simpson's absence left the offense without a reliable vertical option, and Ponder wasn't willing to force the issue.
That should change with Simpson in the lineup, but the Vikings shouldn't deviate completely from the game plan that worked so effectively Sunday. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave devised a smart scheme that got Rudolph involved early and let Percy be Percy.
"Between Percy and Adrian [Peterson] and Kyle, our personnel is awesome," Ponder said. "We have a lot of good players. We're going to create mismatches on anybody wherever we're at."
The Vikings didn't target Rudolph until midway through the third quarter against the Colts. On Sunday, Ponder connected with him on four passes for 34 yards on the opening drive that concluded with a 1-yard touchdown catch by Rudolph on fourth down.
Rudolph's second touchdown registered a higher degree of difficulty. On third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Ponder recognized an all-out blitz and lobbed a pass in Rudolph's direction. Safety Donte Whitner had him covered like a sweater, but Rudolph contorted his body and corralled the ball with one arm.
"I couldn't believe he threw it," Rudolph said. "He put all the trust in the world and just threw it up."
Rudolph gave coach Leslie Frazier a high-five and a quip when he reached the sideline.
"He said, 'Coach, you know I make those kind of catches,' " Frazier said. "The confidence that he has and the confidence that Christian has in him shows up."
Same thing with Harvin, who is performing in another stratosphere this season. The do-everything Harvin caught nine passes for 89 yards and set team records for most combined yards (559) and most catches (27) through three games.
"Everybody knows about No. 12," Rudolph said. "He's one of the hardest guys to defend man-to-man in this league."
That, Ponder said, makes his job easier.
"When you can throw a short bubble route or a swing to him and he gets 15 or 20 yards pretty much every time, it's something you can just rely on," Ponder said. "He's such a big part of this offense. We're going to keep giving him the ball, and he's going to keep making plays the rest of this season."
The Vikings are delighted to add Simpson to the equation this week, and no doubt his presence will help. But the formula they used Sunday worked pretty darn well, too. Now they need to find a way to maximize both.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org