While many Vikings fans wondered if their team, sitting at 7-1 entering Sunday's game against the 1-7 Lions, would be taking their opponent lightly, the coaching staff was busy working on "trick" plays during the week.
Were they running reverses and end-arounds in the first two series and different punt-return formations later in the first half because they could get away with those against the hapless Lions and make future opponents have to prepare for them, or were those plays used because they of a perceived weakness the Lions posed on defense and in covering punts?
Vikings coach Brad Childress and quarterback Brett Favre both said they believed the plays would work against a Detroit defense they felt was susceptible to over-pursuing.
The Vikings' first play from scrimmage was a fake handoff to Adrian Peterson and an end-around to Percy Harvin. It gained a healthy 7 yards to start the game and the Vikings ended up driving inside the 5-yard line before having to settle for a field goal to start the game.
They also got into the red zone on their second series as the run and pass game were firing on all cylinders when they called for a reverse. Favre handed it to Peterson, who tried to pitch it to Harvin. Lions defensive tackle Sammie Hill recovered and the Vikings had to be content with a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
"We just saw something from the last time that said we ought to run reverse until they (start) playing reverse because they are a tremendous pursuing defense. If nobody's checking it, then we have to keep coming with it," Childress said. "We didn't execute it, it executed us right there. It was a poor toss. He (Peterson) put it on the back shoulder of Percy (Harvin), otherwise it had a pretty good chance for success."
In fact, Favre saw big opportunity for that play if Peterson and Harvin had executed the pitch properly.
"I think we score on that play. I do. The one that we fumbled, or I don't even know what happened, we pitched it," Favre said. "They are a fast-flow defense and we wanted to use that against them. We hurt ourselves on that, but I think that double-reverse to Percy, I really think that we would have scored. So we wanted, as you always do, you want to mix it up."
Favre may have had a good look at the field in front of Harvin because he was out there throwing a block. If a block by Favre on a Wildcat play in the preseason and a downfield block by Favre against Patrick Willis of the 49ers after a Bernard Berrian catch drew the concern of Vikings Nation, then his cut block on a Lions defender Sunday has gone mostly unnoticed to this point because of the fumbled exchange between Peterson and Harvin.
No matter the result, Favre saw the value in trying that play.
"A guy like Percy, you want to get him the ball in a lot of different ways, and you see you don't have to throw anyone deep down the middle to make big plays. That goes for all of our guys," he said. "Mixing it up and dividing it up equally with everyone is pretty tricky with our guys. But we can't just show, run to the left, run to the left, pass to the right. It's got to be a good mix. We still have a ways to go in doing that, but I thought our plan was really good, we just didn't execute it as well."
Harvin and Peterson, two of the team's biggest playmakers, were also involved in a couple of other notable plays, both good and bad.
One series after the turnover, Peterson escaped the grasp DE Jason Hunter had on Peterson's helmet and sprinted through traffic for a 22-yard touchdown.
"He had a pretty good grip on me, but my right arm was free. I was able to push him off and get in the end zone," Peterson said.
But before the half would end, Peterson would break one more long run – the one ending in a fumble after he was caught from behind 43 yards downfield by CB Philip Buchanon.
"He made a great play. I was open swinging the ball, he came and punched it out. … I was caught off guard," Peterson said. "I was sick for a minute walking to the sideline, but I was able to bounce back, come back in the second half and score pretty quickly."
Childress took that opportunity to stump for a new stadium when asked if Peterson could have done anything differently.
"If we had a new stadium with a giant Jumbotron, most of those people look right at it. Most of the athletes these days that break out look right at the Jumbotron to see if anybody is pursuing," Childress said. "If he had held it high and tight then he would have seen on that Jumbotron somebody coming and I'm sure he would have secured the ball. There you have it."
Like Peterson's touchdown run, Harvin escaped a tackle attempt for his longest gain of the day. On a short crossing route, Favre hit Harvin, who then bounced off the shoulder of DeAndre Levy and continued on his way for a 40-yard gain.
"I didn't even see him. It just happened so quick I just knew I got hit and kind of stumbled a little bit. Didn't see the hit coming. I was able to get it done," Harvin said.
Harvin was also part of another second-quarter attempt at trickery. Following the Lions fifth drive of the game, Harvin was lined up several yards in front of and to the left of primary punt returner Darius Reynaud. After Reynaud fielded the punt, he faked a reverse to Harvin, and Reynaud proceeded to weave his way through traffic for a 20-yard gain. That, however, was brought back because of a holding call on Heath Farwell.
In all, three of the Vikings' plays that could be put in the "tricky" or "misdirection" category involved Harvin. One worked for seven yards. Another resulted in a turnover, and the third was nullified by a penalty. At some point, the Vikings may opt to use them again, but at least they are on tape for future opponents to worry about.
Trick plays produce mixed results
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