Upon Further Review

The Vikings' opening drive of the second half against Detroit is a blueprint of the difference we've seen in the offense since Brad Johnson took over. You don't have the monster play ability, but you have an offense that can eat time, move the chains, score points and not make the critical mistakes that killed the Vikings so often in the season's first seven games.

One of the primary keys to the Vikings' turnaround since Brad Johnson took over as quarterback has been to remain patient, take the things the defense is willing to give up and keep the chains moving. The team has gone from a quick-strike offense to one that can work the clock and keep its own defense fresh.

In the edition of Upon Further Review, we look at the opening drive of the second half. At the time, the Vikings led 14-6 and, if the opening drive was futile, despite dominating the game in the first half, the Lions would have a chance to come back and make a game out of it. The Vikings didn't allow it to happen and the complexion of the remainder of the game changed.

As has become habit in recent weeks, the special teams did its part to shorten the field for the offense. Koren Robinson took the kickoff back 36 yards to set up the drive for the Vikings offense to take charge of the game by following a simple plan – take what the defense offers you and don't make any critical mistakes.

* 1st-and-10, Minnesota 36 – Johnson sells a playfake to Michael Bennett that freezes the linebackers. Because they ran the same formation on the first play of the game – an 80-yard TD to K-Rob – the deep defenders remained back, sensing the same thing could be coming. Johnson faked a handoff left to Bennett, rolled to his right and found Travis Taylor running a crossing route 10 yards down the field. He threw the ball in a spot that either Taylor would catch it or it would be incomplete. Taylor makes the catch and picks up 14 yards and a first down.
* 1st-and-10, 50-yard line – Bennett takes a handoff, but the play is blown up by a blitz by Boss Bailey. Both Jim Kleinsasser and Adam Goldberg make the blocks to prevent a loss and Bennett is forced to cut the play back to the middle, where he is tackled for no gain – but the team prevents a loss.
* 2nd-and-10, 50 – Johnson finds Marcus Robinson in single coverage with Andre Goodman and throws a bomb for the right side of the end zone. Goodman keeps himself in between Robinson and the ball and, although Robinson has a remote chance to catch the ball, it falls incomplete – but reinforces the point that the Vikings are capable of going deep.
* 3rd-and-10, 50 – On perhaps the most critical play of the drive, Johnson goes to his most reliable target – Nate Burleson. Burleson sells that he is going on a deep corner route and cuts the route back toward the post. The play requires precision timing between both Johnson and Burleson. Johnson is given the protection he needs for Burleson to clear and delivers a strike that he catches in stride for a 15-yard gain and a first down.
* 1st-and-10, Detroit 35 – Johnson again goes for the home run ball to Koren Robinson, who is locked in single coverage, but the pass is too long and falls incomplete. But Lions safety John McGraw is called for illegal contact on the other side of the field to give the Vikings an automatic first down.
* 1st-and-10, Detroit 30 – Johnson buys time in the pocket and throws a comeback pass to K-Rob on the sidelines for a 13-yard gain. The pass is intentionally thrown high so either Robinson catches it or it sails out of bounds incomplete and can't be intercepted and returned. Robinson makes an acrobatic catch, comes down in bounds and picks up a first down.
* 1st-and-10, Detroit 17 – Johnson does a great job selling a play-action fake to Bennett – it takes two linebackers with Bennett – and Johnson rolls left looking for single coverage in the end zone. The pocket collapses and Johnson is forced to take off. He fakes that he is still going to try to throw a pass, freezes Bailey for an instant and takes off running – gaining seven yards before being horse-collared to the turf.
* 2nd-and-3, Detroit 10 – Bennett takes a handoff to his left, cuts behind a block by Bryant McKinnie and cuts his run back inside. Kleinsasser and Anthony Herrera make a pair of seal blocks to allow Bennett a running lane and he gains five yards.
* 1st-and-goal, Detroit 5 – Johnson throws a slant pass low for Marcus Robinson. The play would have been a touchdown if not for a tremendous effort by Goodman, who may have got away with a pass interference call by going over the top of Robinson to slap the ball to the ground. Again Johnson throws a pass that only his receiver can catch.
* 2nd-and-goal, Detroit 5 – Johnson drops to pass and the Lions have his hot reads at wide receiver covered off the snap. Bennett rolls around left tackle and circles back over the middle. Johnson steps up in the pocket and delivers a two-yard flip pass to Bennett. He sheds a tackle as he makes the catch and runs toward the pylon. Safety Kenoy Kennedy has a shot to bring him down, but he slides down Bennett's leg and the RB maintains his footing and scores a touchdown.

This drive has typified the new-look Vikings of recent weeks. Not only is Johnson getting all of his receivers involved, but the blocking he needed for protection and for the running game has been there consistently. When the different players got a chance to make a play, they did. Perhaps more importantly, when there wasn't anything there, the team made smart plays and didn't take unnecessary risks. In the end, they ran a nine-play drive that only saw one third-down play and, most important, they got seven points.

In their four remaining games, the Vikings will be facing teams that they will have to string together at least a couple of drives like this – starting with the Rams Sunday. Taking a look Upon Further Review, the Vikings did everything right on this drive – even the plays that didn't pick up yardage – and perhaps more than anything, that has been one of the main differences between the Vikings of September and October and the Vikings of November and December.

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