Sunday slant: Bringing back the excitement

The days of the deep passing game might be gone – at least with the gunslingers attitude of the Moss era – but Adrian Peterson is just as exciting and probably more valuable overall. We also look at one thing the current receiver corps needs to do and something the offensive lines to get used to.

Are Vikings fans suffering from a 1998 hangover?

I've had people tell me in the past couple of months that they would rather see the Vikings do worse without Brett Favre than get a couple more wins with him. That sentiment may be fading as the sight of Favre in purple becomes more a part of the Minnesota scene.

But I've also heard people say they would sacrifice wins for excitement.

Really? So excitement isn't the main thing, it's the only thing? Excite one for the Gipper? Just excite, baby?

When it comes down to it, the NFL is entertainment. I understand that. And there is no doubt that seeing Randy Moss pull in a football over a defensive back for an 80-yard touchdown was exciting. That was a decade ago. And orator has been trying to turn the page for some time. Right now, the Vikings have the best running back in the NFL, the one who told Fox Sports Radio last week that breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record (2,105 in 1984) is not only attainable, but somebody could "crush it."

Adrian Peterson is the most likely guy to do that, and to think that he isn't sufficiently exciting fans has to be a bit concerning for those in the Vikings organization still trying to sell multi-game ticket packages for this season, which is already two weeks old without a Vikings loss.

There is the economy, which has left too many without employment. There is the fact that the Vikings are one of four professional sports teams in a medium-sized market that also hosts a Big Ten school. But I blame some of it on the 1998 season, which was admittedly the most exciting season of Vikings football I ever witnessed. That team was never out of game as long as Moss was on the field. They outscored their opponents by an average of 16 points per game, the same margin as the 1985 Chicago Bears, whom many cite as the best team to ever play the game. They set an NFL record at the time with 556 points scored.

The 1998 Vikings also had an exciting defense, but not always for good reasons. With John Randle the only defensive lineman that could consistently get pressure on the quarterback, opposing passers often had the crowd ready for another touchdown drive, but that same crowd also believed that the Vikings offense would be able to outscore anyone who dared to get into a shootout.

Today's team doesn't have the downfield threat that Moss provided, and head coach Brad Childress said he hears the "clamoring" for more deep passes. It worked in 1998 because Moss was that good. The Vikings don't have that massive monster tracking down the sidelines these days and they don't yet have the offensive line to allow their quarterback – even if it is Brett Favre – to wind up his arm as if he had to imitate Randall Cunningham.

The excitement with the 2009 Vikings in is their backfield, and even Favre knows that, calling Peterson "the best running back I've ever seen."

Peterson could actually be a bigger asset for the Vikings for a couple of reasons. His position not only has him handling the football more often than a wide receiver, but he's more valuable when it comes times to control the ball and the clock to turn a lead into a win.

Running the ball isn't always the sexy thing, but you have to wonder how well the Cowboys of the mid-1990s would have done without Emmitt Smith wearing down defenses for three quarters and then closing out the game in the fourth quarter.

The way the Vikings are built now, they may not be as exciting as the 1998 team, but with a stronger defense and more powerful running back, they might be equipped to be more successful.

MISSING WILDCAT?

What happens to the Vikings' Wildcat offense if Percy Harvin isn't healthy enough to play today? Not much, really. The Vikings only ran the Wildcat once last game, and Darius Reynaud would be a likely candidate to handle that chore if needed.

If Harvin does miss the 49ers game because of migraines, his absence might be felt more in the passing game, where he has become a valuable quick outlet for Favre, catching short passes and making people miss. That's the essence of the West Coast passing offense, and Harvin seems to be the best at doing that, although offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said this week he thinks the receivers have done a good job of that overall.

"I think they've done okay. We've had some decent runs after the catch," Bevell said. "I think, again, it is going to be opportunity-wise, coverage-wise what you're seeing. Sometimes you are going to shake free against a man coverage for extra yards than you are in a zone coverage, where once you shake free you are running into somebody else's zone. So some of that is dictated by what the defense is doing, but Sidney (Rice) has got skills to do it; Percy (Harvin) absolutely has skills to do it. You've seen Bernard do it plenty of times (and) our running backs are very good at that as well, so I am not concerned in that area."

HANDLING THE HURRIES

One of the buzz phrases at Winter Park the last two weeks has been "zero blitzes," when defenses bring more defenders to the offensive backfield than the offensive line can handle, leaving the receivers with one-on-one coverage.

The assumption is that opposing coaches are testing the Vikings offensive line, which has two first-year starters. But center John Sullivan, one of those starters along with rookie Phil Loadholt, doesn't necessarily agree.

"I don't think so. I'm not a defensive coordinator so I don't know what the theory is," he said. "What we need to do is just beat the zero blitz a couple times and teams will stop doing it. That's the best way to deal with the zero blitz is to burn it a few times for some touchdowns and it won't happen anymore."

True, and that goes back to the receivers making defenders miss and breaking free for a long gains. Sullivan said the Vikings faced four or five zero blitzes last week.

"I think on pretty much every zero blitz it's a hot throw because that means basically they're bringing too many," Sullivan said. "They've always got one more than you can pick up, so the snap's got to get there, the ball's got to get out and you've got to hope that someone's open."

Or break a tackle.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

Viking Update Top Stories