His first season with the Minnesota Vikings hasn’t been what he anticipated, but wide receiver Mike Wallace is seeing the complexities of the Vikings offense coming together as the 2015 season has progressed.
The offense has been and remains centered around Adrian Peterson, so the passing offense has been a quiet secret, despite the coaching staff and many of his teammates having seen the improvement and maturation of Teddy Bridgewater.
Coming to Minnesota from Pittsburgh and Miami where passing is more than just a passing fancy, Wallace has seen how the Vikings operate their offense. When they throw the ball, it’s with a purpose and it’s equal opportunity. If you’re open, you get the ball thrown your way, but, for the most part, the opportunities are few and far between.
“I wasn’t here last year, so I didn’t see him then,” Wallace said. “I haven’t seen a lot of difference in him. He’s been the same player all year; it’s just a matter or opportunity. Throughout the year, we’ve had some good games where we can run the ball and control the clock, so we might only throw the ball 15 times in the whole entire game. It can be hard for a quarterback to get into a groove and allow all the fans to see what he can do when he’s only throwing 15 times a game. When he has to, he’s definitely a baller.”
The last few games have seen the Vikings open up the offense to take advantage of defenses selling out to stop Peterson. As a result, despite a finite number of opportunities, when they arrive, the Vikings have a cupboard full of players to take advantage of their chances.
Along the way, a bunch of other part-time contributors have made their stamp on the offense with the occasional splash play.
“The thing that is great about this team is that we have so many weapons, it’s not just one or two guys doing it all,” Wallace said. “The only guy who is going to be big every single week is Adrian because of the type of offense we have. Each game, we’re finding ways to spread the ball around. Eight or nine different guys might catch passes. It’s kind of hard to beat a team when you have so many different guys who contribute. We’re not even talking about guys like C.J. (Charles Johnson), C.P. (Cordarrelle Patterson) or Adam (Thielen) because they don’t get to play all that much. Guys like Rhett (Ellison), he’s the third tight end and he can ball. Zach Line is one of the fastest fullbacks in the league. We have a lot of depth and guys are all getting involved late in year. I think it’s great.”
The result has been that the passing game for the Vikings has been a collection of contributors, not a go-to receiver and his backup band. Along the way, offensive coordinator Norv Turner has mixed and matched his receivers, often having them switch roles on a play that confuses defenses.
There are several role players, but their role isn’t defined and confined to one specialty. They rotate and evolve and the result has been that the receivers know each role on a specific pass play because they’ve learned how to do each other’s job.
“In Week 17, everybody knows what their role is, but it isn’t one of those things where they say, ‘Mike, this is your role’ or ‘Jarius, this is your role’ or ‘Diggs, this is your role’ or ‘Kyle, this is your role,’” Wallace said. “Everybody knows what they’re supposed to do, but we’ve been switching it up a little bit the last few weeks. I’m running some of the routes Diggs used to be running. He’s running some of my routes. Jarius and I are switching up our routes. It’s kind of hard to stop us when everyone is interchangeable and we run the same play with a completely different look from what they’ve seen on film.”
At a time when offenses in the NFL are starting to look more like college offenses with four- and five-receiver sets, the Vikings offense is a throwback. The basic tenets of defense remain the same – stop the run and bring the heat on quarterbacks – but the Vikings remain a run-first team.
Because of that, they have a lot of hidden gems that are waiting to make their impact. For much of the season, they haven’t been needed, but, as the Vikings look to make a deep playoff run, Wallace is amped to see what they can bring out that the Packers (and all other teams) haven’t seen yet.
“It’s not the offense that everybody else runs, but most teams don’t have a beast at running back like we have in Adrian,” Wallace said. “But we have something different and, in the NFL, if you can come up with something other teams haven’t seen, you can go a long way in this league. That’s what we’re looking to do because we still have a lot of things other teams haven’t seen.”