NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – INSIDE SLANT
After generating only three points in four possessions in the first two preseason games, the Vikings’ first-team offense provided some reason for optimism on Saturday in a 23-17 loss to Dallas at the Metrodome.
On its opening possession, the Vikings had Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson carry on five of the first six plays. Peterson gained 29 yards — a 5-yard completion to tight end Jim Kleinsasser was mixed in — as Donovan McNabb led his team from its 17 to the Dallas 49.
And that’s when new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave got creative.
With a first-and-10 and Cowboys defenders cheating up toward the line of scrimmage to stop Peterson, McNabb took a seven-step drop and let loose down the middle of the field for wide receiver Bernard Berrian.
Berrian, who did not catch a touchdown pass last season when Brett Favre rarely looked his way, put a move on the cornerback and then got behind the safety to haul in the pass as he crossed the goal line.
That play was important for a couple of reasons. 1) It showed that McNabb and the coaching staff have faith in Berrian that Favre clearly lacked. 2) It served notice to defensive coordinators that if you’re going to put extra men in the box to stop Peterson that McNabb has another option and he very well could be open.
Said coach Leslie Frazier: “(It was) just great execution by our guys, and something we talked about during the week: We want to be able to come out and start fast and really do some things where we showed that we can finish, and that drive was really indicative of what we want to be like over the course of the year.”
That is unpredictable enough that opposing defensive coordinators can never assume what’s coming.
“Well, it will keep us balanced that’s for sure,” Musgrave said of mixing in the vertical pass. “We want to be able to get some chunks. The more chunks you get the fewer third downs you have to convert.”
The reality is that Peterson is going to be the focal point of this offense. That is no surprise to anyone. Last Saturday’s game was the Vikings’ third of the exhibition schedule, and thus served as the dress rehearsal for the Sept. 11 regular-season opener at San Diego.
The starters were expected to play little if at all in the preseason finale on Thursday night against Houston at Mall of America Field.
Thus, it made perfect sense that Peterson got the bulk of the workload in the opening half. He finished with 81 yards on 14 carries, an average of 5.8 yards per touch.
“It’s no secret how we want to run our offense,” Frazier said. “We want things centered around Adrian Peterson. We want people to have to get eight in the box to stop Adrian. We feel like with the weapons we have on the outside — Bernard, Percy (Harvin), (Visanthe) Shiancoe when he comes back (from a hamstring injury), even Kyle (Rudolph, the rookie tight end) — that we’ve got some ways to exploit some one-on-one coverage.”
Musgrave had been the quarterbacks coach for the Atlanta Falcons before taking over as the Vikings’ coordinator following last season. He has brought much of what he learned with the Falcons to Minnesota and is combining that with whatever makes McNabb the most comfortable.
That will mean plenty of power runs, three-tight end sets and intermediate passes. And just when it appears the Vikings are happy with that scheme they will mix it up.
McNabb did that again in the second quarter when he attempted to find Berrian in the end zone on a 37-yard pass. Berrian competed for the ball but it was broken up.
“Everyone kind of felt we were trying to play safe but we’ve been trying to open up the offense,” McNabb said. “It really depends what the defense dictates for us. We took our opportunity then we went back to our intermediate passing game and moving the chains.
“Giving an opportunity for Adrian to pick up some holes and get some yards for us. We just kind of fed off of that.”