VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData, Arif Hasan of Vikings Territory, Aj Mansour, who hosts Minnesota Vikings Overtime on KFAN, and Joe Oberle a long-time Minnesota based writer. The VikesCentric crew crunches numbers, watches video and isn't shy about saying what's on their minds.
On one hand, Vikings fans need to take a deep breath and realize their squad just manhandled a Rams team that doesn’t appear to be very good and was using their second and third-string quarterbacks. On the other hand, the Week 1 victory was different for many reasons and should be cause for a dash or two of optimism.
Those who watched Sunday’s 34-6 dismantling of the Rams knew they were watching a different product on the field – from the aggressiveness and improved tackling on defense to the imagination on offense.
This is a different-looking Vikings team that’s already starting to produce some different results.
I mean seriously, when was the last time the Vikings even won a road game? Um, that would be Dec. 23, 2012 when they inexplicably pounded a 12-2 Texans team 23-6. That’s also the last time the Vikings held any opponent to six points or less. The last time before that was their 34-3 shellacking of the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs following the 2009 season. And the last time the Vikings held an opponent to six points or less in a regular season game prior to 2012 was their 24-3 win over the Falcons to open the 2007 season.
Here’s a few more “last times” from Week 1.
The last time the Vikings won by as many as 28 points on the road was Sept. 28, 1994 at Chicago.
The last time the Vikings won by 28 points on the road in Week 1 was their 40-9 victory over the Saints to open the 1976 season. That’s 38 years ago. No current Vikings player was even alive 38 years ago. Not even Cullen Loeffler (he’s the Vikings’ elder statesman at 33).
The last time the Vikings won by 28 points under a first-year head coach was 22 years ago under Denny Green when they beat the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sept. 27, 1992. Rich Gannon threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns in that game. Terry Allen rushed for two touchdowns and caught another. Cris Carter had 11 receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns. And the Vikings picked off Boomer Esiason four times. Yeah, that was a while ago.
I love this one despite the meaningless nature of preseason games: the last time the Vikings won all four of their preseason games and then won in Week 1 was – wait for it – the 1998 season. Yes, that season. You know, the one in which they went 15-1 and then made it to the NFC Championship Game and… I’ll stop there. No, I’m not comparing the 2014 Vikings to the 1998 Vikings.
The last time the Vikings had a wide receiver gain 100 yards rushing in a game, as Cordarrelle Patterson did on Sunday, was… never. Not even Percy Harvin managed that trick in a Vikings uniform.
The last time the Vikings returned an interception for a touchdown, as Harrison Smith did on Sunday, was Dec. 16, 2012 by Everson Griffen against the Rams. The last time a Vikings player returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was… Harrison Smith, who did it twice in 2012, against the Bears and the Cardinals at home. The last time someone other than Smith returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was in 2010 when Jared Allen did it in the last game of the season against the Lions.
The last time the Vikings won on the road without getting either 100 rushing yards or a touchdown from Adrian Peterson was, once again, that 23-6 game against Houston in December 2012. Since Peterson came into the league in 2007, the Vikings have now won just four road games in which he has been held under 100 yards and out of the end zone.
So yeah, Sunday’s game against the Rams was definitely different.
Give yourself permission to feel good about that first victory, Vikings fans. Optimism, yes. Unbridled merriment, not yet. We’ll hold off on saving up money for playoff tickets or planning a Super Bowl parade route for now. However, we might revisit that notion if the Vikings find a way to take out the Patriots on Sunday.
On that note, one more “last time” stat: the last time the New England Patriots (0-1) started a season 0-2 was 2001. That’s a long time ago. They also won the Super Bowl that year, beating (kind of ironically) the Rams 20—17.
Head on over to VikingsJournal.com for a detailed breakdown on how Sugaring the A-Gap is head coach Mike Zimmer’s Pressure Du Jour and a fun look at Cordarrelle Patterson’s epic 67-yard touchdown run against the Rams.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
Mike Zimmer is neither the kind of defensive coordinator to rely on the predictive playcalling of the previous regime, nor the kind of coordinator that relies on aggressive blitzing, like Houston, Arizona and Oakland did last year.
And though the defenses haven’t been “revealed” in the preseason, a lot of what Mike Zimmer has done in Cincinnati has shown up in camp and in the exhibition games that give us some clue as to his philosophy, and they appeared in the game against St. Louis.
On first and second down, Zimmer defenses tend to play to the fundamentals, but when they encounter a “passing down,” Zimmer really likes to let go.
One of the best ways to create unbalanced pressure while still dropping enough players into coverage—something that inspired the creation of the zone blitz—is to fake pressure and create pressure from somewhere else. Generally speaking, this is best done through showing pressure up the middle, often called “sugaring the A gap,” the two gaps between the center and the guards.
This is an extension of the nomenclature used to designate gap assignments, with the B gaps between the guards and tackles and the C gaps between the tackles and the tight end (or the sideline). Sometimes, the alley between the tight end and the sideline is referred to as the D gap, or simply the alley.
The important point here, though, is that showing “double A gap pressure,” or presenting a possible blitz through both A gaps, causes the most trouble for offensive lines and quarterbacks in determining blocking assignments.
The double A gap blitz is a product of Jim Johnson, the legendary former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator, and it developed as a consistent defensive tactic in response to the increasing effectiveness of the West Coast Offense. Famously, Steve Spagnuolo used the tactic to great effect as the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants in 2007, responsible for New England’s ominous Week 17 close game and their famous loss in the Super Bowl that same, record-setting year.
Mike Zimmer’s use of the blitz package mirrors its most common usage patterns in recent history, as Tim Layden writes in Sports Illustrated:
It begins most often with the defense's nickel personnel—five defensive backs—on the field with four down linemen and two linebackers in a 4-2-5 configuration (although it can be run from various other sets). As the offense reaches the line of scrimmage, the two linebackers move menacingly into the A gaps. If the quarterback is under center, the 'backers are eye-to-eye with him. "At that point it's mental gymnastics," says Jon Gruden, the former Raiders and Bucs coach who's now an analyst on Monday Night Football. "There's no doubt there's going to be some penetration in the middle if they blitz, and it's going to mess with your blocking schemes."
In terms of how it affects pass protection schemes, it’s pretty simple. The defense is showing a seven-man blitz, which creates issues. If the protection unit is in man protection, then there’s a man that’s free (because the Raiders here are in 6-man protection, at best). If the protection unit is in slide, or “area” protection, then a running back is responsible to cover the backside of the slide because the offensive linemen move into the gaps (zones) they are assigned to protect, leaving the backside free.
Usually, full-slide protection is used to protect on bootlegs and rollouts. It also leads to mismatches—though slide protection theoretically makes assignments easier to deal with stunts and twists, it can create issues if the defense has schemed a mismatch with a quicker defender attacking a slow-footed guard, or a tight end dealing with a powerful tackle.
The bigger difference in assignment is for the running back—offensive linemen in man protection will still swap stunting defenders. Instead, the running back is responsible for following a linebacker and protecting the quarterback from that specific person regardless of the gap they go through.
More often than not, offensive lines will engage in some sort of combo protection, explicit or not, in order to figure out their pass protection. That is, even those nominally engaged in man protection will pick up defenders in their area and expect others to do the same when not engaged.
The final method of protection involves dual-reading, where a player must read two players and make a call about who to block. Most often this involves running backs in man (or combo) protection, where they will read the linebackers inside-out (Mike to Sam), covering their blitzes in that order (if both blitz, the running back blocks the Mike).
These become more complicated when safeties and slot corners threaten to blitz as they not only screw up the assignments but add players that need to be accounted for. Generally speaking, Mike Zimmer and defenses in general will not likely rush more than seven, as the offense is probably going to send four of its five eligible receivers out in routes, and that would leave players uncovered.
Blocking with more doesn’t usually result in more protection; as Aaron Rodgers noted not too long ago, you may be able to better protect the quarterback by giving him enough receiving options. In the case of dealing with seven or eight-man looks, six-man protection is usually fine because a receiver will get a free release, and in an offense with sight adjustments (Schottenheimer’s offense with St. Louis includes them, though not to the degree that McDaniel’s offense with New England does), that receiver should adjust their route to be wide open.
In this way, the quarterback is “responsible” for the extra rushers. In the example above, where the running back dual-reads the Mike and the Sam and both rush, the quarterback is the one who accounts for the Sam by throwing it hot to the checkdown or hot route—the new route that the receiver runs in response to the blitz.
Sugaring the A gap was responsible for the first third down success in the preseason, when Schaub’s receiver failed to adjust to the blitz look and ran his normal route while Schaub expected him to run a comeback. The pressure and the failure to respond led to the incompletion.
In the end, the Vikings only ended up rushing five and confused coverage calls by dropping players like Brian Robison into coverage (if, for example, the tight end was supposed to be the hot route, Robison would have been able to cover it).
There are some clear issues with man blocking, which include the fact that a stunting Sharrif Floyd would have been very difficult to handle on a stunt. But slide protection would have caused issues, too:
That leaves the running back to either block a defensive end (something Norv Turner has expressed a few times something he doesn't want his offense to do) or the safety. Two free rushers are a little too much to handle.
In the end, the Oakland Raiders chose half-slide, half-man protection like the vast majority of teams on the vast majority of snaps. Though this would generally have done well against a greater number of rushers than the Vikings eventually sent, Minnesota still put pressure on the quarterback while dropping six in coverage.
Against the Rams, the Vikings showed double A gap pressure again, this time leading to a sack by Harrison Smith, coming off the edge again, which you can watch at the 1:27 mark of this video.
The Vikings showed eight-person pressure and rushed seven, leaving one defender to cover each receiver running routes, also known as "man-free" coverage. If the Rams kept a tight end in to block the seventh person (which would have shifted the assignments down the right side of the line), then the safety up top, Robert Blanton, would have rotated into a Cover-1 look shaded to the strength of the formation (where two receivers are lined up).
Instead, he picks up crossing receiver. Because of the added difficulties of this kind of pressure, defensive linemen who do not immediately penetrate drop back into short zones in order to disrupt any hot routes. The pressure package looked like this, and it was designed to put the center in a bind.
And though the center determined who to block quickly enough, the other A gap rusher needed to be picked up. With the running back occupied with Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith had a free release off the edge—both the left tackle and left guard had assignments with Everson Griffen and Sharrif Floyd.
The biggest beauty to this play design, however, is who the quarterback is responsible for: Harrison Smith.
Generally speaking, the person the quarterback is responsible for with seven- or eight-man pressure is a person who is playing on the same side of the formation as his progression. In his pre-snap reads, the quarterback needs to make a determination as to which half of the field he will begin his progressions (where the first and second reads almost always are) before he scans the rest of the field.
That creates an issue in this case because Harrison is coming off the open side of the formation (the "1" in the 3x1 alignment the Rams played on that down), where the quarterback wasn't beginning his reads. While in a broad sense this is the quarterback's fault (the Vikings were signalling off-man, which they ended up playing)—the receiver on that side of the field breaks inside to get open against that look—it's situationally still a loss because the Rams were on 3rd and 8, and that likely would not have converted.
In either case, the Vikings come out ahead. The protection scheme had an answer for everybody, even if the quarterback didn't execute that answer, but those responses would have led to a quick, short gain on third and long. Further, there's a chance Robert Blanton could have peeled off of his man to intercept the ball thrown to the open side of the formation.
Other solutions could have put the running back on Harrison and slid the center, right guard and right tackle inside, with the quarterback throwing hot against Captain Munnerlyn. Unfortunately for the Rams, it creates the same problems, as Tavon Austin ran a route depth at two yards and Lance Kendricks runs his spot route three yards from the line of scrimmage.
It still would have been better to dump off to Tavon Austin and hope for yards after the catch—that's why he was drafted—but the Vikings will consistently take short yardage passes on third and long and be happy to do so.
In large part, this was successful because the Rams' third string quarterback, and undrafted sophomore from Southern Miss, wasn't ready to handle that kind of pressure, and he couldn't direct the offensive line to maximize his time in the pocket. Some quarterbacks like to call for a rollout there, but that likely would have caused issues, as the Vikings on the strong side (Munnerlyn and Robison) would likely not have bit on play-action on third and long, or at the very least would play contain before reverting to rushing an unprotected passer.
Zimmer doesn't always send linebackers to rush the A gaps when showing six, seven or eight man pressure, but the threat of the blitz confuses blocking assignments enough that twists will be particularly effective.
That's another wrinkle to that specific rush the Vikings put on Austin Davis, with Robison and Johnson both taking a step upfield in the gaps they traditionally attack before moving inside—Greenway abandoning the A gap shortly before Johnson attacks it can often lead to unaware blockers allowing pressure. In fact, Johnson does get inside and gets to the quarterback; he may have been able to take him down if Harrison didn't do it first.
Sugaring the A gap doesn't have to lead to linebacker blitzes in order to be effective, and there are other instances when the Vikings dropped both linebackers in coverage while still getting pressure as a result of this tactic.
The Vikings can drop both linebackers and only rush four, and are still able to get the one-on-one matchups they want in order to force the quarterback to throw quickly—the center doesn't double anyone.
Like any blitz or pressure package, it isn't magic. But it's definitely a weapon in the Vikings' arsenal, especially on third down, when the sticks are seven to twelve yards away from the line of scrimmage. The Vikings sacrifice some speed on their pass drops and occasionally will sacrifice players in coverage, but the payoff seems to be well worth it.
Though the Vikings haven't done anything in this regard that hasn't been done hundreds of times in the NFL (Jim Johnson brought it into the fore in 1994), but it's a healthy addition to a defense that badly needed a shot in the arm.
Check out VikingsJournal.com for a reason to stay upbeat with Bridled Optimism and a fun look at Cordarrelle Patterson’s epic 67-yard touchdown run against the Rams.
Cordarrelle Patterson may have Vince Lombardi to thank for his big game.
Though Patterson owes the rich history of the NFL, perhaps it is more accurate to say the Vikings can thank Norv Turner’s willingness to engage in a time-honored NFL tradition of borrowing what works from other NFL coaches, which in this case is an adaptation on the Buck Sweep and Lombardi Sweep concepts from the 1960s translated to modern Vikings football.
It’s somewhat similar to the play the Steelers called in the 2005-2006 Super Bowl against the Seahawks to give Willie Parker a 75-yard touchdown run, the famous “Power O”.
Sometimes called a Toss Power Sweep, and occasionally a Crack Toss Sweep depending on who you ask and how much they care about tight end alignment, the Vikings found a way to turn one of football’s oldest plays and add their own twist, all while highlighting one of the preternatural talents in the NFL.
In this case, it involved some of the toughest blocking angles one could ask of offensive linemen, all while converting a halfback into a fullback to seal the lane.
With the Vikings lined up in “12” personnel—also called “Ace” personnel—and lining up with both tight ends on the line, they were still a moderate pass alert for defenses, especially with the running back line up relatively close to the line, at six yards upfield.
Generally speaking, with three eligible receivers on one side of the field and one on the other, a “3x1” look, the defense is looking to defend against either a “Tare” route combination or a “Snag” route combination that sees Cordarrelle Patterson go deep or hit a corner route in order to take the cornerback out of the play and stress the defenders in the hook/curl zones and the flats by sending the two tight ends in either high/low routes (Tare) or splitting the near defender (Snag).
The Tare and Snag concepts are the most common route combinations when offenses line up in 3x1, so the defense tends to key in on them, especially with the backside receiver outside the numbers (“plus” alignment)) to run a complementary route, often a delayed slant.
Different defenses will respond to this look in different ways.
For some, the primary response is to either run a “box zone” where four defenders are lined up in a box and have rules for who takes which receiver based on whether or not they break outside or in, or have a pattern-matching concept that allows the outside defender (the strong safety in this case) to take whichever receiver moves outside first while the inside defender (the Sam outside linebacker) takes the other receiver, regardless of his route (moving inside or a delayed move outside), all while the corner carries Cordarrelle Patterson where ever he goes.
Other defenses, and occasionally a Williams defense, will check into a Cover-3 zone.
But Gregg Williams loves to play man coverage, even when not blitzing, and that gave the Vikings the edge in both a literal and figurative sense.
The defense is in pass alert until Patterson motions into the backfield, which carries the corner with him and reduces the number of defenders at the point of attack (making it four blockers on four defenders instead of five on five in a scenario where Matt Asiata gets the ball and runs outside).
This empties the alley entirely and makes blocking on the edge extremely predictable. Ten times out of ten, the strong safety will react to a run not by attacking the ball carrier but getting depth and moving outside, making him an easy target for either of the lead blockers to kick him out of the play. In this play, Brandon Fusco does it, and he buries T.J. McDonald.
Just like Lombardi demanding the Packers seal the lane, the Vikings ask their blockers to create a track between the red line (an imaginary line between the numbers and the sideline) and the hash marks that the runner can use to gain yards, with blockers moving defenders one way or the other out of the lane, in some ways paving a road when leading out in front of him.
Easily, one of the most identifiable features of any of the “power” series of runs or the Buck and Lombardi sweeps are the pulling guard(s), this time Brandon Fusco. But the Vikings did something here that was unique, difficult, and risky (well worth it on first down).
Though the backside defensive end is rarely blocked on a play like this, it is extremely unusual to ask an offensive tackle—or any lineman—to block a playside defender away from the play when he’s one gap away at the snap. Kalil is in an extremely difficult position to get his block, and to his credit, he slows Michael Brockers down enough to get the rest of the play going.
The reason they asked that of Kalil was so that they could free up Charlie Johnson and John Sullivan to make crucial second-level blocks and double team the middle linebacker.
The risk is that the Vikings sacrificed the likelihood of a successful, albeit likely short, gain in favor of a high-yardage play, essentially forcing the run to either boom or bust instead of getting an acceptable four yards.
It also theoretically freed John Sullivan up to get off the double team and prevent the weak-side linebacker, who for most teams is the most athletic linebacker, from disrupting the play. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but it was still good enough.
Loadholt’s job was simple, and he did it well, which was to push Alex Carrington out of the play, whether that meant forcing him to overpursue or blocking him out entirely.
Both tight ends had fairly common jobs, and Rhett Ellison performed his (down-blocking the defensive end) to his consistently high standard, while Kyle Rudolph blocked the Sam outside linebacker well enough to ensure at least a ten-yard gain, which Patterson turned into much more.
As the corner rushes back into the alley he abandoned, Asiata plays his role to a T, and blows the defensive back out of the play—meaning the Vikings’ initial and most important set of blocks were both mismatches in favor of the offense, allowing a guard and a fullback to take on a safety and a corner.
Adam Thielen’s job on the edge is to beat the backside corner to the alley and either block the free safety or the corner trailing him. He sort of does this until Patterson outruns him to the end zone (and Thielen absorbs a Michael Brockers tackle for no well-defined reason).
You can see the whole video here.
In the end, the Vikings combined the old with the new, took some big risks and allowed their biggest playmakers the room they needed to make a difference, hopefully a steady pattern for years to come.
When Percy Harvin was traded to the Seattle Seahawks before the 2013 NFL season, not many expected the Vikings would be able to replace him. Beyond that, there was certainly nobody that thought the team would be able to improve off of what Harvin had done in 2011-2012.
In his final games as a Viking Harvin was beginning to come into his own as a runner and receiver. In 2011, Percy had 967 yards receiving and 345 yards rushing. 2012 was going much the same way before injury sidelined him for the final seven games of the year.
The relationship between Percy and the team falls apart behind the scenes, Harvin is traded for draft picks to the Seahawks and the rest is history.
Enter Cordarrelle Patterson.
Drafted near the back end of the first round after the Vikings made a trade with this next week’s opponent, the New England Patriots, Cordarrelle Patterson came into the NFL with loads of talent, but not much polish to show it off.
Thought by many to be one of the best receivers in his draft class, Patterson slipped to number 29 where the Vikings jumped up to snatch him.
The beginning part of his rookie season was bumpy. Struggling to grasp the offensive playbook, not yet able to run crisp route, Patterson watched most of the Vikings games from the sidelines as his receiving buddies were on the field and featured. Frustrated with the lack of opportunities, Cordarrelle funneled his emotions onto the football field. Since he wasn’t getting opportunities to be involved in the offense, he took matters into his own hands and made the best of the opportunities where he did get the ball, on kickoff returns.
After averaging 27 yards per return in his first NFL game, Cordarrelle took one to the house in his second game against the Chicago Bears. Sprinkle in a 69 yard return here, an NFL record 109 yard TD return against the Packers and Patterson suddenly had the attention of a coaching staff that was struggling to trust him.
But there was still this pesky problem of getting his route running up to NFL standards. So the Vikings found a way around it in the form of bubble screens and handoffs to their uber talented wide receiver.
By the end of the year, having really only played half the season on offense, Patterson was sitting pretty with 469 yards receiving (4TDs), 158 rushing yards (3TDs) and 1,393 kickoff return yards (2TDs).
Fast-forward to 2014 and people wondered if the league would have caught up to him now that the secret was out. Well, if Sunday’s game in St. Louis was any indication, the rest of the league still has a lot of work to do to catch CP!
On their way to the team’s first road victory since Christian Ponder led the team to a win in Houston at the end of the 2012 season, the Vikings steamrolled the St. Louis Rams heralded defensive front en route to a 34-6 opening week victory. And Cordarrelle was a big part of it.
Finishing the day with 26 receiving yards, 102 rushing yards (1TD) and 48 return yards, Cordarrelle made his impact felt. It was a 67-yard run that really turned the tide of the game for the Vikings. His performance also paved the way for one of the best MEMEs I think I've ever seen.
“It was a big play,” head coach Mike Zimmer said after the game. “When you get a one play drive like that, Cordarrelle made a great run and the offensive line did a great job blocking…he made a great run.”
Matt Cassel continued saying, “Anytime the ball is in his hands there’s a chance for a big play.”
So it got me thinking, how often does Patterson turn a touch into a big play?
For sake of the argument, let’s define a touch as anytime he catches, runs or returns the football. And we’ll define a big play as anything over 15 yards.
Under those parameters, here’s the data breakdown
Over the span of the 2013 season, Cordarrelle had a total 132 touches and turned those touches into 2,020 yards and 9 touchdowns. Extend that out through the first game of the 2014 season and that means, that on average, Patterson accumulates 20.33 yards per touch and scores one touchdown every 10.8 touches!
But how does that compare to some of the league’s best WR, RB and KRs?
Those are some pretty impressive stats for Patterson when you compare them to the league’s best. Moral of the story…GET THIS MAN THE BALL!!
Fortunately, I think this new coaching staff is aware of the threat they have in #84.
“We always want to get our playmakers the football,” Mike Zimmer said yesterday. “However we can do that throwing it, catching it handing it, it doesn’t matter.”
For his part, Cordarrelle has the same mindset.
“When I get the ball in my hands, I just expect to do great things with it,” Patterson said after the game. “I do a great job visualizing it. When I visualize, things start slowing down for me.”
It was fun to see some of the different ways Norv found to get the ball into Cordarrelle’s hands. What’s even more promising is the optimistic viewpoint that this is only the beginning and it’s going to get better from here.
The road gets a little more difficult the next four games for the Vikings, but the opposing defenses are nothing to fear. The opportunities will be there, it’s time to take advantage of what we might have in Cordarrelle Patterson. So Mr. Turner, get this man the ball any way you can!
Zero touchdowns, zero rushes, zero yards, zero snaps. That’s how Adrian Peterson’s stat line reads for this year’s four game preseason session. While every single one of his teammates was out on the field getting into game shape for this weekend’s season opener, Adrian stayed on the sidelines simply observing.
But there wasn’t any nagging injuries pushing him to the side, there was no differing viewpoint with the coaching staff. Nope, it was just the plan from the beginning to keep Peterson sidelined throughout the exhibition season.
This idea isn’t anything new for the rookie coaching staff. In each of the previous two seasons, Adrian has had the same empty stat line through the preseason.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Peterson said this week. “For me even more so, not participating in the preseason…The first couple years [of sitting out] it was hard. I’m a savvy vet now so I understand the big scheme.”
The idea behind this concept is to protect him. Keep any and all needless wear and tear off his body and he should last longer. Seems to make sense.
“I’ve been in the league for a long time,” Peterson continued. “Preseason, there’s a lot that comes with that, wear and tear on the body and taking chances as well. We’d just rather not take any chances. We’ll take chances, but take them in the regular season when it counts.”
So, with no in-game practice, no contact and no full speed play, what can we expect from that man that we so affectionately call “the best running back in the league” when he takes to the football field for the first time this year against the Rams on Sunday?
If history is any indicator, Adrian isn’t missing much by sitting out of the preseason.
In seasons where he hasn’t seen any carries during the preseason (2012, 2013), Adrian is averaging 88.5 yards per game in the first week of the year. He also has five touchdowns over those two games and is averaging over 5 yards per carry (5.06).
Extend that out to full season statistics in years where he has no preseason activity and Peterson is averaging 1,681.5 yards per year in those seasons. That’s more than 300 yards better than in seasons where he has played the preseason (1,350.4 yards).
But what about against this week’s opponent, the St. Louis Rams?
Admittedly, this year’s Rams squad is a different bunch than the group that Peterson most recently faced in 2012, but there are a few hangovers. That said, the last time Adrian took the field against St. Louis it was a Week 15 matchup in which Adrian ran wild for 212 yards including a career long 82-yard touchdown run.
“I remember that game,” Peterson said earlier this week. “From the secondary on down, those guys were talking so much noise. Then we ripped the long run on them and they got quiet. Hopefully things play out the same way [this year].”
AP also remembered getting off to a fast start last year in the Vikings week one matchup against the Detroit Lions. On his first carry of the 2013 season (again, zero preseason reps), Adrian cracked off a 78-yard touchdown run!
For what it’s worth, Adrian is predicting the same sort of success this weekend against the Rams.
“Touchdown, first run,” Peterson told us with a smile on his face.
It’s now the third year of Adrian being confined to the sidelines during the preseason and just like AP is finally figuring out the value in it, it appears that the fans are learning as well.
It goes without saying that we would all like to see Adrian on the field as much as possible during any point in the season. But if this week’s opponent, the St. Louis Rams, can teach us anything, understanding the balance of the risk and reward for playing during preseason is an important medium to find. They lost their starting quarterback Sam Bradford to a season ending ACL injury during this preseason.
But if there was still any doubt remaining in your mind, hopefully Adrian’s highlighted track record of success can provide a little added comfort as well. He will be fine. He’s a professional, and he’s still the best running back in the league.
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We’ve heard it all before: Norv Turner is a successful offensive coordinator with a championship pedigree, but as a head coach, his teams have struggled in the playoffs. Well, if that’s true then it’s great he is the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, and is prepared to add another notch to his OC belt with this Vikings high-octane offense.
When criticizing the Turner hire as the Vikings offensive coordinator, some fans may confuse Turner’s head coaching record (118–126–1, including 4-4 in the playoffs) with his time as an OC for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys, where he helped win two Super Bowls. In his defense, head coach and OC require different skill sets, and the fact that he has all that head coaching experience can only help him assist first-time head coach Mike Zimmer.
"Norv's great,” Zimmer said. “The players love, not only his personality... he coaches very, very hard, but he has a fun side about him, as well. He's very demanding. He's been in so many different situations throughout the course of his career. It's great for me because I go in and talk to him about head coaching responsibilities all the time and during the course of football games we talk quite a bit about situations going on. It's been very, very fortunate for me to be able to hire a guy like him."
What’s not to like? In fact, those might have been Turner’s exact thoughts when he considered taking the Vikings job and looked at the offense he would inherit. Upon seeing Cordarrelle Patterson on the roster, he set to drawing up a number of plays for him. With Adrian Peterson (the best running back in the game) in his backfield, we can only imagine how that sent Turner’s mind to work.
St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, who has known Turner since 1980 when Turner coached him as a defensive back for USC, said he knows that Turner is enjoying the tools he has to work with in Minnesota.
“I am very familiar with Norv and what he does,” Fisher said. “He always does an outstanding job. I would say Norv is probably walking around with a smile on his face right now because of the players he is working with. It’s a very, very explosive offense, and the longer they work together, the better they’re going to be.”
We saw glimpses in the preseason of what we can expect during the regular season, although that offense was pretty basic. But historically, Turner offenses rely on some explosive downfield passes, which open shorter underneath routes and some room for a running back. Turner likes to throw to his tight end and also exploit a pass-catching running back. That too is a simplistic overview until you start plugging in the players and their specific talents. Let’s take a look:
Adrian Peterson is the main cog of the offense. He will get the ball often—perhaps even more often than other running backs in Turner’s offenses have run the ball--yet, probably not as often as he has in the past. The Vikings have relied almost exclusively on Peterson the past few seasons as the passing game struggled. This year’s passing attack, however, will require more attention from opposing defenses and that should decrease the number of defenders (eight or nine) that teams typically put in the box to stop Peterson.
We are told that Peterson has been working on his pass catching out of the backfield—something former Turner disciple LaDainian Tomlinson made a career out of. Talk to Peterson and you will hear that he could always catch the ball, just never had to do it much and has gotten better at it. The proof of that will be in the pudding, as we’ll see if AP is taken out of the game on passing situations and replaced by Matt Asiata or rookie Jerick McKinnon, each of who can catch and run and also provide blitz protection.
Prediction: This season Peterson will rush for 1,600 yards, catch 45 passes (a career high) and have 14 touchdowns (one of them receiving).
Tight ends flourish in Turner offenses, and Kyle Rudolph is poised to take advantage of that. He came into camp leaner and faster and ready to be a leader, and Rudolph likes to lead by example. It seems like the preseason looks Rudolph got just scratched the surface of what he’ll be asked to do this season, but if the long, catch-and-run touchdown he scored in the preseason is any indication, he’ll get in the endzone often.
Prediction: If Rudolph can stay healthy (a caveat that applies to every NFL player), he will eclipse his Pro Bowl season of nine touchdown passes with 10 scores on 70 catches for 700 yards.
Turner was clearly drooling over Cordarrelle Patterson went he first saw him in OTAs; now on the precipice of the regular season, he is likely licking his chops. Patterson, like Percy Harvin and maybe even Randy Moss before him, is a unique talent in a Vikings uniform, and his OC recognizes it. Patterson will not have another season of the “Reverse Randy Ratio,” rather Turner will feature him until double team schemes try to take him away.
Prediction: Patterson will haul in 80 catches for 900 yards and nine touchdowns. Of course, he will also have a couple rushing and return touchdowns apiece to round out his total at 13.
When the Patterson double teams come look for Greg Jennings to benefit. He saw a lot of double coverage last season, as the team’s passing game did not have opposing defenses shaking in their boots. Jennings and quarterback Matt Cassel did form a connection last season, and, as two of the more senior members on the team, appear to be able to count on each other.
Prediction: Now as a secondary target, Jennings will catch 65 passes for 750 yards (roughly matching his 2013 numbers) but will improve in the touchdown category with five scores.
The Vikings offensive line is basically still intact from 2012, the year Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards, and Zimmer likes that continuity. That also means they are two years older, and for veteran left guard Charlie Johnson (30 years old), his age could be a concern. Johnson is flanked by former pro bowler Matt Kalil, who along with the rest of the line had a down year last season. (Plus Kalil put this performance on tape recently.) In addition, right tackle Phil Loadholt sprained an ankle this preseason but is ready to tee it up on Sunday. There are some question marks with this unit.
Prediction: As the line goes, so goes the offense, so it is a big year for them. And that’s what they will have.
If the No. 1 key to how well the Vikings perform this season is the play of the defense, than key No. 1-A is how the quarterback performs. Because Matt Cassel has been given the keys to an offense that should run like a Formula 1 racecar, and he need only steer it in the right direction (although that’s easier said than done).
While Cassel performed well enough late in the season last year to salvage some wins and make the starting job his to lose this year, his career has been marked by inconsistency and unfulfilled expectations. While playing in nine games (starting six) for the Vikings last season, Cassel had 153 completions in 254 passes (a 60.24 completion rate) with 11 touchdown passes versus nine interceptions. Even more will be needed from him in 2014.
Prediction: Providing Cassel leads the team to some early victories and remains at the helm this season, he will have 25 touchdown passes (if I added correctly above) versus 12 interceptions.
To me it comes down to Peterson. Cassel can hand off to Peterson and the box won’t be crowded as often for him when he does. Cassel has two great safety valves in Rudolph (a huge target) and Jennings (a crafty veteran who knows how to get open) when Patterson isn’t open deep. There are playmakers all over this offense and the defense will have some trouble figuring out what’s coming.
Turner is going to have a lot of fun running this offense. But for Vikings fans, it will be a blast to watch.
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