Getting Away From Inside Running

The Vikings usually have the speed to run outside, but in certain situations straight-ahead running is the better option.

For years Vikings fans enjoyed skewering offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker. If you ever wanted to get Jerry Burns to break into a cursing tirade, bring up Schnelker's playcalling. His biggest weakness was to call sweeps in short-yardage situations instead of running up the middle.

If the Vikings want to point to what cost them Sunday's game, it was ill-timed sweep plays — none that were successful and some that turned out to be disastrous.

In the first quarter, the Vikings had a chance to take an early 7-0 lead, but, with the ball on the 2-yard line, the team tried to run Michael Bennett outside and he was stuffed for no gain. On third down, the team called an option instead of a sneak or a dive and Daunte Culpepper was brought down for no gain, forcing the Vikings to settle for a field goal.

In the third quarter with a 10-3 lead, the Vikings finally got the offense clicking with passes and straight-ahead running, but decided to call a bizarre tight end sweep that was doomed from the start. Before Byron Chamberlain even got the ball, he was surrounded by defensive and offensive linemen and, trying to make something out of a bad play, fumbled and the Bears recovered — killing a drive that could have potentially given the Vikings a commanding 17-3 lead and forced the Bears to abandon the run.

Finally, the series that turned momentum completely around again involved the sweep. With less than eight minutes to play and the game now tied 10-10, the Vikings had the ball next to midfield with a third-and-1 situation. A first down runs the clock down inside of five minutes and keeps a tiring Bears defense on the field. Culpepper has rarely, if ever, been stopped in a situation like this — little more than the length of the football — but the Vikings called a sweep to Bennett. He was pulled down by middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who had time to chase down the play and make the stop.

That play forced the Vikings to punt and, when a high snap to Mitch Berger resulted in him trying to ad-lib a pass play destined for failure, the Bears had the ball in Vikings territory and Chicago went on to score the game-winning touchdown off of that miscue.

While there is a time for calling the sweep — Bennett and former Viking Robert Smith possess the speed to make a routine sweep into a huge play — in the situations in which they were called, it went against what has been successful for the Vikings. And it created the scenarios that allowed the Bears to keep the Vikings' point total down and give the Bears the chance to win the game — creating the turning point of the game. VU

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