Monday, November 30, 2009

Vikings pass on running -- as they should

The Vikings rolled over the Bears 36-10 yesterday, completely dominating Chicago in every facet of the game (well, minus a couple of special teams gaffes), but, as usual, the run-pass balance was questionable. Counting his one sack, Brett Favre dropped back 49 times while handing the ball off 31 times...

And, based on how the Vikings ran the ball, I almost think we should have passed more.

First of all, don't be deceived by that raw number: 49. Minnesota ran 83 official plays (discounting penalties and including three kneeldowns) to Chicago's 38 and dominated time of possession, 40:55 to 19:05. You're going to have a lot of passes and runs when you run that many plays. To wit, 59% of the play calls on Sunday were pass plays, not far off from the 56.7% league average. So don't look at "49" and think that Brett Favre was overworked.

That said, there's something just not quite right with the Vikings' running game. Adrian Peterson has averaged 4.2 yards per carry over his last five games, but that number is inflated by a 7.4 yards per carry average against Detroit. His averages in the other four games? 3.8, 3.9, 3.4, 3.4. Serviceable, but not what we've come to expect.

The bulk of the blame has to go on the offensive line, as I can't remember the last time I saw it open a hole for Peterson or get a two- or three-yard push on an opposing defensive line. As such, Peterson's only positive runs seem to be on cutbacks (usually after running up the back of his own linemen) or on runs to the outside. Only Peterson's speed and athleticism have allowed him to manage even three-plus yards per carry in those four games. At the start of the year, you could have said that teams were selling out to stop Peterson and were willing to take their chances with the Vikings' passing game, but a) They've been doing that for the last three years; and b) The way Brett Favre is playing, that's really, really, really stupid. A professional football coach can't take that approach and expect to win -- and I guess, 10 out of 11 times this year, they haven't.

And then there's the fumbles. Seriously, can we get Tiki Barber to come in and tell Peterson how to stop fumbling? Oh, you're not comfortable carrying it in your left arm. Well, get comfortable, son. Or ride the bench.

Maybe it's just a temporary stutter in Peterson's so-far majestic career; it's not like Jim Brown and Barry Sanders were great every Sunday. But Peterson seems to go through stretches like this every year, where he looks average at best, and it's hard to figure out why. I haven't run a pass-vs.-run analysis this year like I did each of the last two years because I've been busier and it takes a while to put together, but maybe I'll get to one this week. If I do, for the first time in a while, I'll probably find that the Vikings are passing a lot more than they're running, and it'll be a good thing.

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