Anatomy of the big plays

The Vikings 34-31 victory at Chicago was highlighted by big plays. In fact, all the touchdowns were scored on plays of 30 yards or longer. In some cases it was a remarkable effort/mistake by one player, on others it was truly a team effort.

In a wild contest marked by big plays, here’s a closer look at what made each of those big plays click:

Play #1:  Devin Hester’s 89-yard punt return for touchdown

It all started with a booming 54-yard Chris Kluwe punt that Hester fielded at his 11-yard line.  While the commentators said the problem was that Kluwe outkicked his coverage, the punt coverage was actually there with a pretty solid wall of defenders.  But the first key player downfield, linebacker Dontarrious Thomas, was actually blocked in the back for what could have been a penalty, although it had no bearing on the play, as Hester was long gone by then, anyway.  Three Viking defenders had a legitimate chance at Hester.  Chad Greenway and Vinny Ciurciu overpursued and created lanes for Hester.  Mike Doss was the only defender who actually had a chance to bring Hester down but was unable to wrap up on the tackle.  But the credit really goes to Hester, who is simply the most dynamic return specialist in the league today.  In just his second season, he has made defenders look like that 9 times already.

Play #2:  Troy Williamson’s 60-yard touchdown reception

The Vikings put all their eggs into one basket on this play, as Williamson was the one and only downfield target on the play.  It started with an effective play-fake to Peterson that held the linebackers and limited the pass rush.  Bryant McKinnie totally neutralized Mark Anderson at the line of scrimmage.  Ryan Cook got a little chip from Jim Kleinsasser to do the same with Adewale Ogunleye.  The interior of the offensive line held the fort, as well.  Fullback Tony Richardson came through the line like it was a running play and supplanted Greg Briggs.  Meanwhile, Williamson simply blew by safety Adam Archuleta, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson put the ball right on the money, Williamson caught it cleanly and the first T-Jack to T-Will hookup of the season was complete.

Play #3:  Bernard Berrian’s 39-yard touchdown reception

Isolated in man-to-man coverage, cornerback Antoine Winfield got caught looking into the backfield and simply fell down trying to trail Berrian.  Quarterback Brian Griese did not miss on the opportunity.

Play #4:  Adrian Peterson’s 67-yard touchdown run

There’s no questioning that this was the result of Peterson’s immense talent.  His cutback ability, vision, instincts, balance, acceleration and pure breakaway speed are what make him such a special talent, and he showed all of those things on this play.  But it wasn’t without a little help from his friends.  First of all, Peterson was well into the secondary at least 12 yards before anyone even put a hand on him.  That’s when he shrugged off a tackle effort by free safety Brandon McGowan.  The rest was mostly Peterson’s speed from there.  However, the blocking at the point of attack was outstanding.  McKinnie locked up and sealed Anderson on the play.  Steve Hutchinson prevented Brian Urlacher from flowing into the hole.  Then Kleinsasser chipped in to seal Urlacher cold.  Matt Birk blocked down.  Anthony Herrera fired out on Lance Briggs and dropped him to effectively remove him from any potential pursuit when AP cutback.  Ryan Cook sustained contact to ride Ogunleye inside and eventually down.  Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe washed linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer wide until he was completely out of the play.  Bobby Wade got just enough of a block downfield and Robert Ferguson put the finishing touches on Charles Tillman as Peterson high-stepped it into the endzone.

Play #5:  Adrian Peterson’s 73-yard touchdown run

This play was really set up by the explosiveness of Peterson.  The offensive line essentially put a hat on everyone and rode the herd downfield and to the right.  Peterson took one step that way, then cut it back to the left and simply turned on the jets.  As a result, he was essentially untouched on the play.  Peterson’s deceptive speed created poor pursuit angles by at least three Bear defenders and Wade and Williamson contributed with tenacious blocks downfield.

Play #6:  Adrian Peterson’s 35-yard touchdown run

Once again it was mostly Peterson’s speed and explosiveness that made the Bears look like poor tacklers who were a step slow.  The Vikings got a hat on everyone at the point of attack once again and prevented any penetration.  Shiancoe made perhaps the key sustaining block on No. 38 to really break the run.

Play #7:  Muhsin Muhammad’s 33-yard touchdown catch-and-run

Muhammad took a simple crossing route through the soft spots in the team’s Cover-2 zone defense and outmaneuvered Dwight Smith, who failed to make the open-field tackle, to step in for the score.

Play #8:  Devin Hester’s 81-yard touchdown reception

Other than a complete lack of any significant pass rush, the failure on this one was simple:  Smith allowed Hester to get behind him.  In his defense, Hester’s God-given speed is at least a couple ticks faster and the scheme didn’t even put a bump on Hester at the line of scrimmage.

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