Adrian Peterson's return to the field for Week 1 surprised everyone except Peterson.
His presence allowed the Vikings to take pressure off of second-yard quarterback Christian Ponder.
Not only was Peterson ready for Week 1, but he basically looked like the Peterson of old. He ran with power, speed, moves, and determination. The Vikings re-established their running game quickly, taking advantage of defenses that didn't respect Peterson as they had before his injury.
What are the keys to success for the Vikings' running game?
When teams are only putting seven men in the box, the good old hat-on-a-hat downhill running approach can produce big plays for the Vikings. On this Week 5 play, the Titans only had seven defenders in the box:
Very simply, each of the six Vikings blockers would try to move his man to open a hole up the gut for Peterson, and the tight end would account for his man by running a route:
Each Vikings blocker wins his battle and Peterson is off to the races for a 20-plus yard gain:
The Vikings don't experience nearly the same kind of success when they ask Peterson to turn his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. The Titans only have seven in the box again:
This time, the play (which lacks a lead-blocking fullback) is designed to get Peterson outside, but a Vikings guard loses his one-on-one battle right away:
Peterson is thrown for a loss because Titans defensive tackle Mike Martin was quicker than his opponent:
Letting the Defense Take Themselves Out of the Play
Vikings guards could be observed losing to their man and causing run plays to get blown up on numerous occasions in this game. One way to deal with that is by using the defensive line's natural inclination to get upfield against itself. The Titans have only seven in the box once again:
The Vikings line springs up into pass-blocking stances, inducing the Titans front line to attack them:
The Titans defensive line's upfield surge opens a hole in the middle of the line, and the fullback and tight end lead Peterson to daylight by blotting out the linebackers:
If the Vikings strategy on the first run seems simple, just look at the formation when Toby Gerhart is in the backfield. Seven blockers between the two defensive ends:
Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy is eyeing Gerhart through the hole and he is ready to pounce:
Gerhart surprises him by sticking his foot in the ground and cutting back to a hole he sees developing on the backside of the run:
Gerhart bursts through it and McCarthy can't get to him:
Keeping It Simple
The Vikings are winning with great defense and special teams, and an offense that doesn't turn the ball over and wears down the opposition in the process.
Whether it's Adrian Peterson or Toby Gerhart, the best recipe for success in Minnesota are sets with a fullback and tight end/H-back creating a numbers advantage for Minnesota in the box, and letting their running back get downhill chew up big chunks of yardage.
Don't expect to see too many three-wide receiver sets from the Vikings this year.