Coach Brad Childress' offensive play calling over his first three years at the helm of the Vikings has been unimaginative, too conservative and worst of all . . . utterly predictable.
When Childress came to Minnesota he boasted that his offensive scheme was a “kick-ass offense.” Vikings fans were giddy over the prospect of seeing the purple post numbers similar to when Randy Moss and Chris Carter were catching passes from Randall Cunningham and Daunte Culpepper.
Instead fans saw simple running plays up the middle and too often saw short passes designed for receivers to earn a first down by fighting for yards after the catch.
The Vikings offense finished 12th overall in the NFL last year. The finish for the offensive unit was especially underwhelming given that the team boasted the league leading rusher in Adrian Peterson.
Expectations for this year were high with the addition of Brett Favre and Percy Harvin. The offense point total has not disappointed with the Vikings scoring at least 27 points in each game this year.
The play calling this year however has occasionally been reminiscent of the past—too conservative and too predictable. Case in point, the fourth quarter playing calling by the Vikings on Monday Night against Green Bay during Week Four allowed the Packers to get back in the game.
Going into the St. Louis Rams game this weekend, fans were curious to see if the Vikings would unveil their kick ass offense or revert back to their old playing calling ways.
In evaluating the Vikings play calling against the Rams, fans were left with mixed emotions. There was nothing really imaginative about the plays called. Yet, the Vikings did mix up their play calling enough to keep the Rams guessing.
The running game was pure vanilla ice cream without a hint of syrup. The Vikings did not a run a single counter trap for Peterson or Chester Taylor.
The Vikings were content to go straight ahead running primarily behind All-Pro Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie. The result was a very pedestrian 89 yards on 24 carries. The longest run of the day was 15 yards by Peterson.
The passing game was a little more exotic; imagine an additional scoop of chocolate or strawberry ice cream.
The Vikings really used only four passing plays to dissect the Rams secondary.
First, the Vikings ran their play action with a naked bootleg to perfection all day.
During their first series, Favre hit a wide open Harvin who subsequently broke tackles down field on his way to a 24 yard gain. Peterson then took the ball into the end zone on the next play.
During the second series of the second quarter, Favre again hooked up with Harvin on the same play for a nice 19 yard gain. The Vikings subsequently kicked a field goal.
Second, the Vikings used the screen pass to take advantage of the aggressiveness of the Rams defense. Favre hit Peterson and Visanthe Shiancoe for gains of 9 and 11 yards respectively.
The Vikings quarterback who used the play most effectively however was Tarvaris Jackson.
The Rams sought to rattle Jackson with blitzes in hopes of an interception that they could take to the house to get themselves back in the game.
On a 3rd down and 1 at the Vikings 29 yard line, the Rams came with a blitz. Jackson very patiently waited for a screen to develop for his Fullback Naufahu Tahi. Tahi welcomed the spotlight and went rumbling down field for a 32 yard gain. 3 plays later with the ball on the Rams 36 yard line, the Vikings were faced with a 3rd down and 7. The Rams expecting Jackson to drop back came up the middle the hard.
The Vikings guessed correctly by calling a center screen for Chester Taylor. Again, Jackson patiently dropped back and waited for defense to sell out. Jackson saw the fruits of his patience as Taylor took the screen 33 yards down to the Rams 3.
Third, when the Rams were in zone coverage the Vikings would hit their second receiver after sending their first receiver through the zone as a decoy.
The beneficiaries of this play were Shiancoe and Taylor. Favre’s value to the Vikings is likely most evident on this play because of his early recognition of the zone defense at the line and his willingness to not to lock on to one receiver.
The best example of this play was the Vikings touchdown pass to Shiancoe in the third quarter.
The Vikings were in the red zone at the Rams 13 yard line. The Vikings sent a player in motion; the player was a decoy and it appeared sending him in motion had its intended effect of getting the Rams attention.
Favre did not give the play away by locking on to Shiancoe. Instead as soon as Shiancoe broke open, Favre turned, fired, and hit him in stride preventing the Rams defenders from putting a hand on Shiancoe.
In fairness to the Vikings coaching staff, they probably didn’t open up their playbook to keep their next three opponents in the dark.
While the plays were simple, the Vikings did a good job mixing things up to keep the Rams guessing.
Peterson had not gained more than 100 yards in his past 3 games. Last year, everyone would have expected the Vikings to hand off the ball to Peterson early and often.
Instead, the Vikings threw the Rams a curve ball by starting with a pass to Sidney Rice followed up with short screen pass to Peterson.
The message sent by the Vikings is a good message to the Rams and the League.
In passing to Rice, the Vikings are stating that they feel confident beating teams with their passing game.
The screen pass to Peterson says he can no longer be thought of as only a threat to run the ball. Last year, Peterson had 21 receptions whereas after 5 games this year Peterson has already hauled in 10 catches.
On their second series, the Vikings increased their lead to 14-0 by virtue of Jared Allen taking a fumble into the end zone.
The series starts on the Vikings 34. Last year, the Vikings would have been content to slowly grind the ball with running plays.
This year, the Vikings stayed aggressive with a pass play. Unfortunately, Favre was sacked as Tahi failed to pick up a blitz. Chester Taylor gained 7 yards on the next play with a run.
In his first year, Childress would have probably gone with a running play. This year, Favre throws a deep skinny flag route to Harvin. Harvin is behind the defender and it appears that it would be a 40 yard play for the Vikings but Harvin can’t hold on to the ball.
Good call, Coach. Why not go for the early knock-out punch—you are up 14-0 and you are on the road. If Harvin catches the ball, the fight in the Rams and their fans might have left at halftime. Bags on the heads of the remaining fans would probably have followed.
Most fans probably don’t feel that the Vikings offense is a kick ass offense. The only pass that was beyond 30 yards that was not a screen pass was Favre's 47 yard pass to Sidney Rice pictured above.
While the Vikings are not as explosive as Moss and Company,the Vikings offense might just be good enough to get the job done if they can continue to keep defenses guessing as to their next move.