Even head coach Brad Childress outlined during the offseason the Vikings' need to get more explosive on offense and limit the number of explosive plays the Vikings were giving up on defense. By the team's measure of explosive plays – rushes of 12 or more yards or passing plays of 16 or more yards – the Vikings ranked 25th in the league in 2006.
This year, the number of explosive plays in the rushing game is way up, which might account for fewer explosive plays in the passing game.
In 2006, the Vikings had only 13 rushes of 15 yards or more – and six of those were for 15 or 16 yards. Nine of those 13 long rushes belonged to Chester Taylor.
So far this season, the Vikings have 31 rushes of 15 yards or more and they still have three games to play, putting them on pace to just about triple their explosive gains in the running game. Adrian Peterson alone has 19 of those 31 long runs, and Taylor has already equaled his 2006 total of 13 rushes of 15 yards or more.
With a better running game and more leads to protect than last year, it figures that the passing game wouldn't be seeing as much action, and that's exactly how it has panned out. With three games remaining, the Vikings have only 19 catches of 20 yards or more, compared to 44 all of last year. However, the way in which they are getting those high-end explosive gains has differed. Last year, the Vikings had only two catches that went for 50 yards or more, with each of them being 50-yard pass plays to running back Mewelde Moore.
This year, the Vikings have a 79-yard pass play on a wide receiver option to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, a 60-yard screen pass to Peterson, 60-yard touchdown passes to wide receivers Troy Williamson and Sidney Rice, and a 50-yarder to Taylor. Last year, only 18 of the 44 long pass plays went for more than 25 yards. So far this year, the Vikings have 13 that exceed 25 yards.
"Any time you have a good running game, the long ball is going to be open," Jackson admitted. "It is going to present one-on-ones outside because they are bringing that extra guy in the box so it will be one safety high. Any time that happens, you have got one-on-one outside, so anytime you have a good running game that is going to happen."
With only one more play of 50 yards or more this season, the Vikings can tie the team record of 19 plays over 50 yards. That was set during the Randy Moss-Cris Carter era in 1998. Now, the explosiveness has turned to the running game.
With one more 100-yard rushing effort, the 2007 Vikings would set a team record with nine 100-yard performances on the ground. Robert Smith had eight 100-yard performances in 2000, and this year Peterson has six and Taylor has two.
Peterson and Taylor also stand a good chance at becoming the franchise's best running tandem. They have a combined 1,916 yards rushing while Smith and Daunte Culpepper combined for 1,991 in 2000.
All of the statistics tracking long gains didn't necessarily convert into big points in the first half of the season, but the Vikings have been on a scoring binge during their four-game winning streak. In the first nine games of the season, they had 166 points, but they have tallied 139 points in the last four wins, outscoring their opponents 139-56 after being outscored 188-166 in the first nine games.
The Vikings' longest pass play against San Francisco was a 23-yard completion to Robert Ferguson, but they still found some success in the intermediate passing game.
"They were protecting the deep ball when they were blitzing their corners," Jackson said. "It's more like when you get one high (safety) because when they were blitzing their corners they had two high safeties. It's a lot different when teams are putting that eighth guy in the box trying to stop the run and you play-action those guys trying to get those guys to come up rather than blitzing corners and having two high."
Teams have attacked the Vikings in myriad ways this season with varying degrees of success, but the running game has been the catalyst for explosive plays, setting up the occasional deep ball.
MOTIVATION AGAINST THE RUN
Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris said Peterson's 224-yard rushing effort against the Bears in their first meeting this year will serve as some motivation for a defense that is ranked 29th overall and 24th against the pass.
"You always want to repay someone that does that to you," Harris said. "He had a heck of game against us and I don't feel like we played our best game, but we get our chance to do it again. So hopefully we can contain him more."
The Vikings still have the league's top-ranked rushing offense, averaging 172.2 yards on the ground per game. However, the 49ers last week held the Vikings to 117 yards, including on 3 yards on 14 rushes for Peterson.
But Harris cautioned that the way the 49ers attacked the Vikings with blitzing cornerbacks might not fit into the Bears' scheme and made sure to point out that Chester Taylor still had a 100-yard rushing game.
"It's not really trying to stop one person. You've still got to remember that Chester Taylor rushed for 1,000 (yards last year)," Harris said. "They have a two-headed monster that either or can break out, so it's basically being able to contain the whole offense, and Tarvaris Jackson is playing excellent ball right now. Those guys are looking real good, so just seeing how San Francisco drew up a great scheme against them, but Minnesota wanted it more. They are playing great football right now and we just have to go in there and try to play our best so we can come home with a win."
BRAD ON PAT
Childress was asked about Pat Williams and gave one of his best and most extensive quotes of the year.
"He is chuckles every day. He is one of those guys, he is what I call a sport bitcher," Childress said. "That is what he is – just the sport to it. It doesn't make a difference if it's what time we eat or what time we practice or what uniform we are wearing. It doesn't make any difference; he is going to do that just because. And if it was a sport, he would excel at it. You would want him on your team.
"He is a great guy to be around. He has got thick skin because he gets it dished to him as hard as he dishes it out. He doesn't let people really hang around in the training room, although he is kind of a fixture there. But if you open that door and come in there you better be ready for both barrels, whether you are a rookie or a veteran. You better have a retort. He and Chester have a pretty good dialogue that has gone on from day one last year, so they can dish it to each other pretty well. But heart and soul of our team.
"It's important to him and it's interesting, when I had my first press conference out here and didn't know Pat Williams except for the name and having competed against him before, he was here. And as I walked in that door, I kind of looked up at him and he said, ‘Don't worry, Coach, I have got your back.' Those are the first words that I ever had with Pat Williams, or he had with me, and I am kind of like, ‘How about this guy now? Has never met me.' But he is a team guy. That's the best thing to say about him."