Passing offense takes on new look

  • Article by: JUDD ZULGAD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 21, 2011 - 7:44 AM

Vikings tight ends and running backs were the primary targets for Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder.

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SEATTLE - There has been an assumption that new Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's scheme will rely on having tight ends and running backs involved in the passing game.

Considering the Vikings' approach in the first half of their 20-7 victory over Seattle on Saturday night at CenturyLink Field, it appears that assumption is an extremely safe one.

As the Vikings took a 13-0 lead after the opening 30 minutes, tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Jim Kleinsasser combined for four receptions and running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart combined for three of the team's 10 catches.

Just as telling, Vikings quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder looked for the running backs seven times and the tight ends six times. Wide receivers were targeted four times.

Actually, almost all of the production from the first- and second-team offense came in the second quarter as the Vikings ran only three (yes, three) offensive plays in the opening 15 minutes. That meant coach Leslie Frazier had to wait longer than expected to see quarterback Donovan McNabb and his No. 1 offense.

Frazier said last week he had a set number of plays for McNabb to be in the game, and that figure ended up being 16. What Frazier probably didn't figure was that 13 of them would come on a second-quarter drive.

Tarvaris Jackson, who signed with Seattle as a free agent after spending his first five seasons with the Vikings, ran 26 plays for the Seahawks in the first quarter, but the Vikings still led 7-0 when it ended. That was because cornerback Marcus Sherels returned an interception of a Jackson pass 64 yards for a touchdown.

Sherels' heroics came shortly after he played the role of goat. The former Gopher, who is among those auditioning for the punt-return job, fumbled a Jon Ryan boot at his own 45-yard line after getting 16 yards. But on the ensuing Seattle possession Jackson, whose time in Minnesota was marked with untimely interceptions, threw a pick to Sherels on a third-down pass that was intended for Golden Tate.

"It was encouraging to see our guys come and play some good football," Frazier said. "That interception by Marcus Sherels, those types of plays are game-changers."

Jackson finished the first half 11-for-21 for 75 yards with a horrible 40.8 passer rating. Sidney Rice, another former Viking who left in free agency after the lockout, caught two passes from Jackson for 11 yards but was the intended target a team-high five times.

About the only notable thing from the Vikings' only possession of the first quarter came on second-and-8 when left tackle Charlie Johnson appeared to be beaten badly by Seahawks defensive end Raheem Brock. That enabled Brock to throw the 34-year-old McNabb for an 8-yard loss at the Vikings 25.

Johnson, signed as a free agent from Indianapolis, replaced Bryant McKinnie at left tackle when McKinnie showed up to training camp weighing almost 400 pounds and was released. Johnson, however, has struggled in practice, and there has to be concern on the Vikings part about whether he's the best choice to protect McNabb's blind side.

While the offense didn't get as much time as Frazier would have liked in the first quarter, he did get a good long look at his defense. The second unit had a nice goal-line stand that started in the first quarter and carried into the second. The Seahawks had first-and-goal from the Vikings 2. Running back Justin Forsett gained 1 yard but then carried three more times and never got that final yard.

The Vikings offense took over at the 1 and finally got the work Frazier was hoping to see. McNabb moved the offense 81 yards in 13 plays in a drive that ended with a 36-yard field goal from Ryan Longwell. McNabb had completions of 17 yards to Rudolph, 23 yards to Kleinsasser and 21 yards to wide receiver Michael Jenkins.

McNabb, who finished 6-for-8 for 81 yards, gave way to Ponder after that series, with 4:12 left in the second quarter.

Ponder also led the Vikings on a drive that ended with Longwell kicking a 34-yard field goal. Ponder, the 12th pick in the draft, finished 6-for-12 for 63 yards and rushed three times for 15 yards. He was replaced by Joe Webb early in the fourth quarter.

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  • Marcus Sherels (35)

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