Simpson exploits run-focused defense

Jerome Simpson took advantage of a Lions defense concerned with stopping the run and had the best opening day of any Vikings receiver in the last 10 years. Coaches, Simpson and Christian Ponder discuss the coverages, the yardage that was left out there and more.

Jerome Simpson finally performed Sunday like the Minnesota Vikings brass believed he could when they saw him healthy in the 2012 offseason.

Fifteen months ago, Simpson was making diving catches during minicamp practices and organized team activities that caused coaches and general manager Rick Spielman to rave about him. But after nerve damage derailed his first season as a Viking, Simpson on Sunday finally gave fans a glimpse of what all the talk was about in 2012.

"We went into this season hoping that we'd have that downfield threat and Jerome proved to be that on that day, made some terrific plays," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "Christian (Ponder) made some nice throws as well. The scheme because of our running back and then our being able to take advantage of it, hopefully we'll continue to do that – get some explosives – and take care of the football and good things will happen."

In reality, Simpson would have had even more than the 140 yards receiving he garnered Sunday with a little more accuracy from his quarterback. Christian Ponder's first target of Simpson was the only one that didn't connect, as it went off the fingertips of Simpson and was intercepted.

Four plays later, after an interception by Erin Henderson gave the Vikings had the ball back, Ponder went back to Simpson. He had a step on cornerback Chris Houston but had to slow down for the final three strides before hauling in a 44-yard pass and being promptly tackled by Houston at the 4-yard line. Fortunately for the Vikings, that didn't stop them from scoring. On the next play, Adrian Peterson got through traffic for a 4-yard touchdown.

On the biggest play of the day for the passing game, Ponder had a little too much on a post-and-go route that found Simpson wide open behind cornerback Darius Slay and safety Louis Delmas. The long pass required Simpson to dive for the ball and allowed Delmas to catch up to him at the end of Simpson's slide on the ground at the 15-yard line.

"Clearly if a guy is wide open, you'd like to give him the ball and he catches and he scores," Ponder said. "He made an unbelievable catch and it could have been a little better ball."

As it turned out, the Vikings scored on both drives where Simpson had big catches.

"Jerome made some terrific plays for us. We definitely had our moments as an offense. They were just too few and far between, but Jerome was a part of our moments that we want to build upon," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said.

"We were going to put him in position to (be a playmaker). … We weren't on the field enough so it's definitely a feeling of unfullfilment throughout the whole offense. Jerome did have his moments and that was a bright spot."

Last year, in the only game Simpson was healthy – Week 4 coming off a three-game suspension – he had a season-high 50 yards. This year, he is more than halfway to his 2012 season total of 274 yards after only one game.

"He's a great player and he's healthy," Ponder said. "Last year it was unfortunate that he battled that nerve deal and was never fully healthy, but now he's very confident and we see what he can do when he's ready to go. He'll continue to do that all year."

While Vikings fans waited to see if rookie Cordarrelle Patterson could be the next exciting thing at receiver (he got only five snaps and one reception), it was Simpson with the big performance.

The sixth-year veteran had the most receiving yards of any Viking on opening day since Randy Moss had 150 yards in 2003. It was also the second-highest single-game total of Simpson's career.

"I'm healthy this year, have nothing hanging over my head," he said. "I've got my confidence back, and I'm ready to just play ball and make plays for this team."

Adrian Peterson is still the focus for opposing defenses, but Simpson's diving 47-yarder down the middle of the field was the product of single-high safety coverage while the Lions concentrated on stopping Peterson.

"I think defenses are going to be daring us to throw the football down the field. They're going to stop the run. They're going to play a lot of single high, a lot of man coverage trying to stop Adrian," Ponder said. "As an offense, we have to beat man coverage with the receivers. We have to have time to throw it down the field. We've got to make plays. We made a couple explosive plays on Sunday and we've got to continue to grow and continue to expound on that. We have the receivers and the personnel to do it. We know that we have to take pressure off that running game."

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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