Vikings mastering the art of third downs

The Vikings are one of the best teams at converting third downs. Why? The players and Brad Childress explain why they've been so successful at that. Plus, more notes from Winter Park on Monday.

NFL teams often talk about living to play another down. On Sunday, the Vikings lived to play 83 offensive downs.

For Brad Childress, the former offensive coordinator for Wisconsin and Northern Arizona, it felt like a college game. He said having 70 offensive plays at the NFL level is "ridiculous."

The key to the sustained offense was a combination of the defense shutting down the Bears – they had only 38 plays in the game and only two net yards in the second half – and the offense converting third downs.

While the Bears were 2-for-8 in third-down conversions, the Vikings were 12-for-18. For the season, they are second in the league, converting third downs at a 48.7 percent clip (only the Indianapolis Colts are better at 49.6 percent).

"It's partly play-calling and partly execution on our part by the players," receiver Sidney Rice said. "We're just supposed to go out and execute on the plays that the coaches give us. Third downs was one of the things we talked about ever since the beginning of training camp. It's like the first day of training camp, getting better on third downs, third-and-long situations. We've been working on that ever since training camp, just trying to get better at that. And I think we did a good job of it yesterday."

Last year, the Vikings were pretty average, 19th actually, converting 39.4 percent of their third downs. Visanthe Shiancoe, the team's leader in touchdown receptions, spread the credit around as much as quarterback Brett Favre spread the ball around the previous day.

"Wide receivers are getting open, man-on-man coverage. Our wide receivers are doing their job and Brett is doing his job," Shiancoe said. "Our offensive line, they are doing their job of holding up the protection, protecting our quarterback. Our running backs are protecting our quarterback, allowing him time to throw the ball to the wide receivers that are getting open. It's no longer where our wide receivers can't get open. They have the ability now and they are showing it."

The feeling throughout the locker room is that the Vikings simply have too many offensive weapons so defenses have to choose which to defend one-on-one and Favre is exploiting those matchups.

Favre completed five or more passes to five different receivers, each of whom had at least 50 yards receiving. The leader was rookie Percy Harvin, who had six catches for 101 yards.

Harvin also is tied for fifth in the league in third-down receptions with 21 and is easily the leading rookie in that category. But Chester Taylor is tied for sixth with 19 receptions on third downs and is the top running back in that statistic. Rice is tied for 15th with 16 third-down catches, demonstrating how many third downs the team has converted and how many different players are contributing to their success.

With that many options, teams can't possibly stack the defensive front to stop running back Adrian Peterson and double-team the every receiving option.

"They have to get single coverage because they can't double nobody. And then they are trying to get pressure on Brett, so what to do, man? It's kind of a defensive coordinator's nightmare almost," Shiancoe said. "… They had to respect the backfield so they put nine in the box with a single-high safety. Usually that's man coverage or they play three deep. But I think that the balanced attack is what really does it. They can't do it. They can't game plan us too hard. They just almost have to play kind of neutral. Play a neutral defense."

Shiancoe said man coverage for the Vikings' receivers is a winning formula.

The fact that the Vikings saw Chicago dedicated to stopping the run only encouraged Childress to tell his offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, to keep throwing it.

"Typically that's an aside on the sideline after we're doing something, saying, ‘Hey, Bev, throw it again. That's a first down, throw it again. Keep throwing it.' That's almost heresy. I can't believe that's coming out of my mouth on the sideline," said Childress, who would rather find success in the running game and wear down a defensive front. "That's just what we strongly feel in looking at it and watching how they're bringing people and what they were doing. I said, ‘Hey, we know what we're doing with the pass game. We trust what we're doing with the pass game, the protection game. Let's move it this way."

The result was that Favre ended up throwing the ball 48 of the Vikings' 83 offensive plays. Having Favre enables Childress to have that kind of trust in the passing game.

"That's nice from the standpoint of being able to be well-rounded and being able to pick whichever one you want to use. So is it my favorite way, to throw it 48 times? No, but a completely different circumstance than how we had to throw it against Pittsburgh 51 times. At the end of the day it's a win and we keep moving."


  • Favre's 48 passes in one game without an interception were the most in his career, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

  • The Bears had 149 of their 169 total net yards come in the second quarter. They had only 20 net yards the rest of the game. Childress said it took the defense some time to adjust to the no-huddle the Bears were running, but they did a better job with that the second time Chicago tried that tactic.

  • Childress said he was convinced the team was going to score on its first series before Peterson fumbled the first time. The Vikings also had 10 penalties, so they aren't without areas to improve.

  • The Vikings had two illegal-man-downfield penalties and Shiancoe was quick to give tackle Bryant McKinnie a hard time about being in the end zone on a touchdown pass to Shiancoe that was nullified because of that penalty.

    "He said his momentum kept him going. But I believe that since he's about … he's a big dude. Six-eight, what 400? That's kind of hard to stop," Shiancoe said. "That's like an 18-wheeler almost pumping the breaks. That's going to take a while to stop. So he said he was in the end zone and he was looking around kind of suspicious. He sees the ref looking at him and I told him he should have played it off and just looked the other way or celebrated or something. He starts creeping back. He started creeping back to the line of scrimmage and that's when they threw the penalty. Late. So he did it. It wasn't his fault, but he starts creeping back, looking around, looking at the ref like that. The ref was looking at him."

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

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