Vikings effective in inverted wishbone

The Vikings appear to be increasingly featuring a new wrinkle in their offense: the inverted wishbone. The formation yielded heavy averages in both the run game and passing game. We look at the combination of tight ends and fullback and get reaction.

Judging by raw numbers, John Carlson had one of his better games as a pass-catching tight end Sunday, but his value has gone far beyond that of late, especially in the Chicago Bears game.

Carlson caught four passes for 61 yards, but his versatility has added options for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, and so did the improving health of fellow tight end Rhett Ellison. Look beyond the passing game and they show up repeatedly on film making in-line blocks.

On Sunday, they also could be found in front of Adrian Peterson. Both of them at the same time. At other times, it was fullback Jerome Felton and either Ellison or Carlson in front of Peterson.

The Vikings used an inverted wishbone nine times.

"I don't know if it was more than we've done in the past. Obviously we ran the ball really well, so there were more run plays," Carlson said. "We were controlling the ball and staying on the field a little bit more. Some of those plays where Rhett and I were in the backfield were working. We kept using them, the power-type runs."

Seven of the nine times the Vikings were in the inverted wishbone they ran out of the formation, with great success. Peterson gained 62 yards on those seven carries. In total, he carried it a career-high 35 times for 211 yards – numbers that seemed to surprise Carlson and had him nodding in approval and calling it "a solid day's work."

Three of those inverted wishbone formations came with Felton and Carlson in front of Peterson, and two times each it was Ellison and Carlson, and then Ellison and Felton.

"Rhett was outstanding throughout the day with the exception of that one pass, but he had he played outstanding in the run game," head coach Leslie Frazier said, referencing a bobbled pass at the goal line that was intercepted. "He has a lot to do with our run game all of a sudden picking up, having him healthy now and playing, and John was good as well, had some nice catches for us. He's a much-improved blocker. But Rhett was very, very good."

While Peterson had a solid day all-around, averaging 6 yards on 35 carries, he was even better with the inverted wishbone, where he averaged almost 9 yards a carry.

But the timing of the blocks can be challenging. As hard as Peterson runs, the mantra for the tight ends and fullbacks is block quickly or get run over.

"It can be challenging because Adrian hits the hole so hard. Last week in Green Bay, I got smoked on the goal line," Carlson said, recalling a block he was making in front of Peterson with the running back ran into him from behind like a muscle car at full throttle. "When he gets the ball, he's going. Get off the tracks when the train is coming through. It is challenging at times, too. The fullback has got to make his block and the guard has got to read that block and decide what he's going to do and then I've got to read him. It worked pretty well yesterday."

With the Felton-Carlson combination in front of him, Peterson carried three times for 38 yards. When it was Ellison and Carlson, Peterson had two carries for 8 yards and the Vikings also passed twice for 26 yards, including a 6-yarder to Carlson. When it was Felton and Ellison in front of Peterson, the running back carried twice for 16 yards.

Felton was the main fullback in front of Peterson when it was one blocker in front, playing 38 snaps. His time in there also impressed running backs coach James Saxon and Frazier.

"We went into this game saying we needed to run the ball and we needed to run it effectively, which is what we say every week, but we were very intentional about certain runs being effective, and Jerome was partially key to those runs being effective," Frazier said. "Even before the game I was talking to the team, and I had asked Jerome in pregame, ‘Do you feel like you're ready? A lot's going to be on your shoulders today.' He said, ‘Coach, I'm bringing all my tools to the game today. I'm not leaving anything in the toolshed.' And I shared that with our team before the game, that everybody needed to have that same attitude and that same approach."

The running game in general was great on Sunday with 40 rushes for 246 yards. But for a running back that a few years ago clearly preferred to rush without a lead blocker, Peterson has come a long way and now can be found as the tailback in the inverted wishbone. It has become an effective option for the Vikings in their run game.

"It's a combination of factors. It's good game-planning by our coaching staff. It's the offensive line, the tight ends, the receivers doing a nice job blocking and we just executed our responsibilities and then Adrian is a beast," Carlson said of the rushing success. "That's kind of the X-factor that you throw into it. We can do our jobs and get him through the hole, but he's still making people miss and running people over, doing things that not every running back can do."

And the versatility of Carlson and Ellison only add to the options.

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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