Coaches Stress Patience

Many people would like to see Randy Moss get the ball more often than he has lately, but coaches say using others more will eventually free up Moss.

Because of the style of defense employed by Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy (keeping his secondary far enough back in order to prevent the opposing team from completing deep passing routes), the Vikings offense had a different look to it in the 20-16 win over the Bucs.

It was similar to the look it was forced to take on in the first two games, as well.

Partly because of the defensive protections, the usual downfield passes aimed mainly at Randy Moss or Cris Carter did not play a dominant role in the Vikings' attack. Instead, the majority of Daunte Culpepper's career-high 30 completions were caught either by fullback Jim Kleinsasser (eight), tailback Michael Bennett (six) or tight end Byron Chamberlain (four). Moss and Carter each caught five passes.

Two of Culpepper's completions did come on deep routes and both were key plays in Minnesota's scoring drives in the second half. Moss' 39-yard grab helped to set up a Gary Anderson field goal in the third quarter. Chamberlain's 37-yard catch-and-run led to Culpepper's 8-yard run for the winning touchdown.

Nonetheless, the question remains, have the Purple faithful witnessed a permanent change in the Vikings' go-deep offense or was it the usual case of "taking what the defense gives you?" According to Vikings coach Dennis Green and his staff it could turn out to be a little of both.

Said Green: "I'm hoping that's what we're going to look like. I really am. I think in conjunction with the running game … now, the running game has to improve. … But we said the tight end would play more of a role, and he has. I think if we do enough of that earlier (in the game), we can force some man coverage, we can make some plays and then, of course, people come in and know you can run and get the ball to the tight end and move the ball throwing to the backs. So you can get the coverage you want at the beginning of the ballgame, and that would be the idea."

Green clearly indicated that the improvement in the running game is expected to come from Kleinsasser and Bennett. The passing game has already seen a change, if not an improvement, with the addition of Chamberlain, who adds another deep threat to an offense that had been mainly provided by the Moss-Carter-Jake Reed trio of wideouts.

Chamberlain led all Vikings receivers with 16 catches in the first three games and ranked second to Moss in yards per catch at 13.8. Moss' average was 17.7. Kleinsasser and Bennett were second in number of catches with 13 each.

Vikings offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis doesn't guarantee that he will present the same type of attack against other opponents that was used against Tampa Bay, but he admits that the Vikings offense will consist of more than the go-deep patterns which were prevalent in the past.

"The tight end has been involved a lot already," Lewis pointed out. "In the first three games he's led us in receptions, so he's going to be an intricate part of the offense because he's quite a weapon working the middle of the field. As far as the backs catching the ball, I've always believed in getting the ball to the backs and taking the underneath coverage that they give you. Hopefully, we can continue to do that. But whether we'll get as many opportunities as we did (against Tampa Bay), I doubt it."

The reason?

"Well, because Tampa Bay is completely different than anybody else we play," Lewis said. "Their linebackers get so deep they force you to throw the ball underneath. So you've got to be patient and take the underneath stuff until they start coming up, and then you can throw behind them. But at the start of the game they're going to make you throw underneath and hope that you don't have the patience to stay with it." A situation which is designed to give the Bucs' secondary an opportunity for an interception because the pass is being forced deep into the coverage.

What, then, can we expect of the Vikings offense in the future? Will the role of the wideouts be diminished? "Not necessarily," Lewis replied. "If a team plays us the way Tampa Bay does, you can expect the backs to catch more passes. But if people play us with the conventional defenses the backs will get a few passes, but the wideouts will get most of 'em."

The no-force
rule applies

Vikings assistant coach Charlie Baggett is often portrayed as having the best assistant position in the NFL, coaching Moss and Carter, perhaps the most talented pair of wide receivers in the league, a fact which Baggett does not dispute. At the same time, he suggests that the Vikings' passing attack may be even more effective this year because of the addition of Chamberlain, along with the short-passing game involving the running backs.

"We really think that those guys are additional weapons in our offense," Baggett said. "We just have to get the ball to them (the tight ends and running backs) when the opportunity presents itself — when the defense gives it to us — instead of trying to force the ball to Randy all the time." VU

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