Jerome Simpson has a "very good chance" to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins, according to Vikings coach Leslie Frazier.
Good thing for Frazier and his Minnesota Vikings. There might not be an opportunity as good as Sunday presents for the Vikings to get their best deep threat unleashed. Simpson woke up Sunday with numbness in his foot and the condition is believed to be linked to a back problem, according to doctors' assessment after Simpson had a magnetic resonance imaging test earlier this week.
The Vikings have only six passing plays that have exceeded 20 yards this season and Simpson has one of them despite only playing one full game and being limited in Sunday's contest because of the back issue.
"It's an important part of this offense (to get Simpson deep). Obviously he has the speed to get down the field," quarterback Christian Ponder said. "We're going to keep using him and keep getting him downfield. The awesome thing is he's just like Percy where we can throw him the short pass and he can break tackles and make guys miss like we saw in the preseason. We're going to keep giving him shots."
Those shots might best be put into practice this week against the Redskins, who have given up 26 plays of 20 yards or more, with 24 of them were on passing plays.
Surprisingly, the Atlanta Falcons last week didn't have the success of other teams facing the Redskins. Matt Ryan's passing attack produced only three plays of 20 yards or more and none more than 30 yards.
Simpson is as close as the Vikings come to a Roddy White-type player who demands deep attention from the opposing defense.
"You saw in that Detroit game, the impact that he had when he got single coverage. Even when you have pretty good coverage like that last play when he caught the 27-yarder, his athletic ability sometimes overrides good coverage," Frazier said. "You need a guy like that who can make that difficult catch even though he may seem covered, which creates some doubt in defenders (and) defensive coordinator's minds whether to be in eight-man fronts or stay two-high with their safeties."
Getting Simpson fully immersed in the offense could be the final step for the Vikings. They have the elusive slot receiver in Percy Harvin, who is second in the NFL with 38 catches and leads the league with 242 yards after the catch. They have the mammoth pass-catching threat down the middle in Kyle Rudolph, who is tied for league lead among tight ends with four receiving touchdowns. And they have a superstar running back in Adrian Peterson, who usually commands extra attention near the line of scrimmage.
"Of late, we've been getting a lot of single-high safety. One of the reasons Percy was able to get down the sideline in that game on Sunday was they chose to play single-high," Frazier said. "He was able to get behind the guy, make a play for us. But Jerome will hopefully help us to get more two-high safeties than what we're currently getting."
In each of their previous three games, the Redskins had given up two passing plays of more than 50 yards. The Vikings don't have any over 45 yards, but Harvin has that 45-yarder to lead the team. He also has four of the team's 10 pass plays of 20 yards or more.
Harvin certainly has the speed to get deep, but at 5-foot-11 he isn't always considered a threat deep down the sideline. But, without Simpson, the Vikings wanted to try to keep defenses a bit more open to the possibilities of another deep threat and found Harvin in single coverage 45 yards down the left sideline.
"It's a big deal because now all of the sudden they can't just sit down and say he's not going to do anything deep or we're not going to throw it to him deep," Frazier said. "We've had other routes where we've sent him deep, but usually there are so many people around him you can't get what you want. It really will help us going forward as we are trying do more things down the field."
Ponder said the Vikings haven't seen a tangible countermove by defenses since Simpson has returned from suspension on at least a limited basis in the past two games.
But, Ponder said, "I wouldn't be surprised if they do. We'll make adjustments as they do. The good thing is, in our offense there are always different options on every pass play, whether you go deep or medium or short. We'll make adjustments as they make adjustments."
The adjustment Sunday, especially if Simpson is healthy enough, could be to take advantage of a Redskins secondary that has given up more than its share of long passes.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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