Through two weeks, the Minnesota Vikings have shown no ability to move the ball consistently with the pass.
Yes, Christian Ponder threw for 270 yards in Week 1 and 245 yards in Week 2 (515 combined yards, 257.5 yards per game). And yes, Ponder hasn't thrown an interception yet while completing 75.8 percent of his passes.
But, he hasn't had many of these completions pile onto each other for a long drive nor has he had many passes go for over 15 yards. His longest passing play of the season was a 29-yard completion to Kyle Rudolph against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
And, that's just who the Vikings are right now. Their passing game isn’t built for big 30-yard bombs (unless Jerome Simpson enters the fold and changes that).
It’s a passing game built on gaining a shorter quantity of yards and bunching many of those plays together on one drive.
One way the offense can do that is by getting the ball to Percy Harvin in the flats. Then, just let him operate.
If you watched the game Sunday and were exposed to the Thom Brennaman/Brian Billick broadcasting duo, then you already know that Harvin is received in the NFL community as one of the best open-field players.
The man knows a thing about burning past defenders and making them look silly.
This brings me to the tape.
I want to analyze this 11-yard pitch and catch between Ponder and Harvin on Minnesota’s first series. It's the type of play Minnesota can and should use throughout the year.
This was the Vikings’ second play from scrimmage.
The preceding play was a five-yard rush by Adrian Peterson. The Indianapolis defense entered this game with the intent to slow down Minnesota’s run game as best as possible. The Vikings are known for their ability to run the football, which should create opportunities for Ponder in the passing game…hypothetically speaking…but it seemed to on this particular play.
(Helpful hint: All text goes with the photo above it) Minnesota sets this play up in a traditional run formation. It starts off as an off-center I formation with two receivers right.
Harvin, starting in the right slot, is motioned from the top of the screen to the bottom. At this point, you notice that a defensive back, which leaned toward the center of the field prior to the motion, bumps out to compensate for his motion.
As you see from the behind the line picture, Indianapolis is presenting an eight-man front. Minnesota has seen these since Adrian Peterson became Adrian Peterson and will continue to see them in the future.
You’ll notice one safety is in the back right portion of this picture. That leaves one defensive back with Harvin and the other with Michael Jenkins. That puts both wide receivers in better situations to succeed.
This shot demonstrates what the offense, excluding Harvin and Jenkins, did. This is a quick-hitting play, which means members of the offensive line need to hold their blocks for a limited time. It also means they can fire out harder than on a typical passing play, which will lure many defenders at the second level into believing it is a running play—especially given Minnesota’s powerful run game.
You’ll notice Minnesota drew both linebackers in the middle of the defense to at least take steps toward the hole opening up between the center and right guard at the line of scrimmage.
Any time offenses can get the defense to hesitate for even one second, it is a victory—even more so when that gives Harvin an additional second on the edge. With the linebackers taking steps in the wrong direction, let’s go back to a wider shot of the field.
This is a shot of the field shortly after the ball is out of Ponder’s hands. You’ll notice there is only one player near Harvin for roughly 10 yards. It’s one-on-one, and I give Harvin the edge in that situation 95 percent of the time. He will pick up five yards in situations like this. Only the elite can take Harvin down without him gaining any yards at all.
And of course, Harvin gained 11 yards on this play, resulting in a Minnesota first down. This is the type of play we’ll see much more of as the season progresses because Harvin runs it very well, and it loosens up the defense inside for the running game.