Vikings Insider: Passing threat has Peterson off to the races

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 29, 2011 - 11:19 PM

If Christian Ponder is successful at scaring defenses, there should be more room for the Vikings to open up their running game.

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Christian Ponder’s presence helped give Adrian Peterson space to operate against Green Bay.

Photo: Mckenna Ewen, Dml - Special To The Star Tribun

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In a roundabout way, Adrian Peterson's outlook on life might have changed significantly with these 13 words: "Y Mo to trips left, 314 OP, naked left, crazy 7, Z pump."

Gibberish? Not to Peterson, who heard quarterback Christian Ponder call that in the first huddle of his first NFL start and sensed a new beginning.

No, the play wasn't designed for Peterson. His role? Feign taking a handoff, stop at the line and look for someone to block. Ponder and Michael Jenkins covered the rest. The quarterback rolled left. Jenkins put a nasty double move on Packers cornerback Tramon Williams to gain an acre of separation.

Seventy-two yards later, the Green Bay defense had its warning. Yep, the Vikings suddenly had a dangerous vertical passing attack.

To that point, the Vikings had run 356 plays this season and had thrown 174 passes. Yet they had only four completions longer than 30 yards.

The result? Opponents were consistently crowding the line of scrimmage with eight, sometimes nine defenders. In Week 6, the Bears built a wall, zeroed in on Peterson and dared Donovan McNabb to beat them.

"All Day" had a rough night -- 39 yards on 12 carries. The Vikings lost 39-10. The face of the franchise vented.

"When a defense is focused on just stopping the run and being able to attack and basically daring you to pass because they don't believe you can, it's going to be a long day for you," Peterson said.

Then a few days later came that 13-word command: "Y Mo to trips left, 314 OP, naked left, crazy 7 Z pump."

More important, here came Ponder with his fearlessness. And here came Green Bay with eight men in the box -- only to be torched on the first play.

Suddenly, Peterson felt less claustrophobic. He trampled the Packers for a season-high 175 yards.

Peterson's three biggest bursts covered 54, 29 and 25 yards.

His 106 yards after halftime came after he had averaged 27 second-half rushing yards over the season's first six weeks.

"I think our quarterback had a little bit to do with it," coach Leslie Frazier said.

Sure, it's too simplistic to conclude that first play by itself instantly opened holes for Peterson to run wild. Neither Frazier nor offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave would go that far.

But there's no denying Ponder's presence has given the offense a new dimension.

"I mean, Adrian had a big day rushing," Jenkins said. "I think you could see [the Packers] knew they had to respect our ability to throw."

It's not just Ponder's willingness to attack downfield. His pocket savvy and quick feet have Carolina coach Ron Rivera equally uneasy this week. Rivera's Panthers are one of the NFL's worst teams against the run. Logic says they'll need to devote maximum manpower Sunday toward stopping Peterson, the league's rushing leader.

But this pesky Ponder kid ... Man, you have to keep a close eye on him now, too.

Said Rivera: "The one thing we felt about Ponder all along is that he's just a tremendous athlete. And the threat of him running the bootleg or the threat of him running the quarterback keeps, it keeps that backside honest. And if the backside is too honest, the kid keeps the ball and goes around it. But if you crash or stay too wide, now there's a huge cutback for Adrian Peterson. And that's a scary thing. You don't want to give that guy any creases. He doesn't need any creases, believe me."

On Peterson's 54-yard run last week, the Packers didn't load the box. And thanks to a key block from center Joe Berger, Peterson had a small crease up the middle. Off he went.

The psychological impact? The Vikings suddenly feel more potent. Opponents suddenly must think more.

No wonder Peterson went on such a jubilant dash after that first pass last weekend, catching up to Ponder in the end zone, slapping the side of the kid's helmet and shouting his congratulations.

"I feel like we took a big jump last week," Peterson said.

He's not alone.

Dan Wiederer • dan.wiederer@startribune.com

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