In the aftermath of the release of Randy Moss, there was no shortage of questions as to how that void, which was expected to be substantial, would be filled. After all, Moss is a future Hall of Fame receiver who commanded special attention from defensive coordinators.
In the first post-Moss game, however, passes were flying through the air. In his 20-year NFL career, Brett Favre never threw for as many yards as the 446 he gained against Arizona. Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian caught nine passes each. For Harvin, his nine receptions and 126 yards were both career highs. Berrian's nine receptions tied a career high, doubled his season total (he had just nine catches in his first seven games) and his 89 receiving yards were the most in any game in almost two years.
They were not alone. Eight different players caught passes last Sunday and four others caught four passes each – Greg Camarillo (4-66), Visanthe Shiancoe (4-66), Adrian Peterson (4-63) and Greg Lewis (4-30). Favre spread the ball around and got his entire receiver corps involved – wide receivers, tight ends and running backs.
"This is what we were looking for all year," Berrian said. "We have weapons and we have a lot of guys who can make plays."
While there is something to be said about having a dominant receiver like Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Reggie Wayne or Roddy White, the Vikings are making it work with a committee sort of approach. Harvin is viewed as the team's top big-play threat, but there is room for players like Berrian, Camarillo, Shiancoe and Lewis to make plays down the field.
"When we can spread the ball out, defenses don't know who they have to attack," Camarillo said. "Obviously, you're going to key on Percy because he's our biggest threat. But, when you can spread the ball out, it confuses defenses and forces them to be more tentative. We have so many weapons that we can spread the ball around effectively."
Veteran Jim Kleinsasser said that Favre is the type of quarterback that will force passes into tight windows, but is at his best when he is provided the time to survey the field. As a result, any eligible receiver could be in line for a Favre pass – which is the way it should be, according to Kleinsasser.
"You always want to use all your weapons," Kleinsasser said. "When you have one of those guys that is such a playmaker, you force the ball into him, he will be the primary guy in most games. But, when you have a bunch of guys who can make plays, Brett finds a way to get them the ball. You always have to be ready because Brett reads defenses so well and so quickly that he knows where the open guy is going to be and will bring the ball his way. When you get contributions out of everyone, it's what makes an offense work."
The Vikings offense has been without a "go-to guy" all season. Last year, Sidney Rice provided that consistency in the passing game, but he has been sidelined all season following hip surgery. Moss was supposed to fill that role, but, even when he was with the Vikings, he was far from the dominant receiver that was expected to arrive in Minnesota. Lewis said that the performance the receiver corps put in Sunday is something that should have been happening all season because of the talent level on the offense.
"I think when Randy was here and before Randy was here when Sidney was out, people had opportunities to make plays," Lewis said. "You can't really focus on one person or try to get the ball to just one person. He gave other people opportunities to go out and make plays when given the chance. This past week, Greg and Bernard and Percy and myself, when given the opportunities, we made plays and we did a good job. They couldn't focus on one person and we just had find ways to get open and make the play when the ball came our way."
Spreading the ball around has multiple benefits for the Vikings offense. In lieu of a deep downfield game-breaker, the Vikings are moving the ball in smaller, but equally significant, chunks. In Sunday's win over Arizona, Favre completed 14 passes of 15 yards or more and six or 22 yards or more. By being able to burn defenses and pick up significant yardage to multiple targets – five different players had receptions of more than 20 yards – it creates problems for defenses that not only helps the passing game, but helps Peterson in the running game.
"It keeps the defense on their toes," Shiancoe said. "They don't know what to expect or who to key in on. There's no priority in the offense. It's a well-balanced offense when it comes to running and passing. When a team is on their heels like that, it just helps our running game and they complement each other. You saw everybody get a piece of the pie on Sunday and it was a dominating offense. With all of the talent we have here, that's what we're capable of."
When a defense is on its heels, it often means that Favre isn't getting blitzed as often and, given time, there are few in the game today that are better at finding soft spots in defenses than the 41-year-old veteran.
"He goes through his progressions really fast and is quick to find the open receiver," Lewis said. "We have to be prepared when he sees a throwing lane to get it to us. We can all make plays. We just have to get open and give Brett a target."
The Vikings hope that Sidney Rice will be coming back to the offense soon, but there remain questions as to how quickly he will be able to resume his role as the No. 1 receiver. When he does, perhaps the demarcation of receivers Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. will return to the team. Until then, it looks as though the receivers will be Nos. 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, etc. They may not need to have the specter of Moss to be successful and getting Rice back, even in a part-time role, would be a huge positive.
"He is an excellent receiver and will bring another dimension to our offense when he comes back," Camarillo said. "We're all excited about it. Everybody made a big deal of Randy Moss coming here and rightfully so. He's a Hall of Fame receiver, but we have a lot of talent among our receivers and tight ends and we're going to show just how much talent we have the second half of the season."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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