Vikings players share in red zone prowess

The Vikings were the top team in the NFL in the red zone, and many of their offensive weapons shared in the wealth. Brett Favre was the distributor, but running backs and receivers alike were the welcome recipients.

The Vikings accomplished a lot of good things last year, but if they're going to three-peat as NFC North champions in 2010, one thing they're going to have to do is try to repeat their unbelievable red zone perfection on offense last year. Considering how good the Vikings were, that's going to be a tall order.

One of the problems the Vikings offense had during the first three years of the Brad Childress Administration was that the team struggled badly in the red zone. At times, it seemed the Vikings were satisfied to settle for three points once they got in scoring position. The play-calling would get conservative. That all changed when Brett Favre arrived and nobody got into the red zone or produced more touchdowns than the Vikings did in 2009.

The most obvious difference was Favre. His 27 red zone touchdowns not only led the league, it led it by a wide margin. Peyton Manning and Drew Brees tied for second with 22 red zone touchdowns. Favre's 88 red zone pass attempts tied with Aaron Rodgers for second in the league (behind Brees), but nobody was even close to his 65 completions, which were 10 more than second-place Brees.

With Favre's passing prowess, it would seem logical that much of that production came at the expense of the running game. But that wasn't the case. No running back had more carries inside the opposing 5-yard line than Adrian Peterson, whose 30 carries was 10 more than any other running back in the league other than LaDainian Tomlinson's 28. No other running back had 10 touchdown runs from inside the 5-yard line and only one (Tomlinson) had more than eight, which made Peterson's 14 rushing TDs from inside the 5-yard line all the more impressive.

When it came to wide receivers, Sidney Rice found his way near the top of the red zone charts as well. His 15 red zone receptions tied Marques Colston and Andre Johnson for third place in the league, trailing only Brandon Marshall (19) and the Giants' Steve Smith (18). Not to be outdone (by much), Bernard Berrian was tied for tied for eighth with 12 red zone receptions, despite being targeted just 17 times – the most receptions for a player with that few targets. The same sort of reception percentage applied to rookie Percy Harvin, who caught 10 of the 13 passes thrown his way in the red zone, with three of those going for touchdowns.

But perhaps the biggest difference-maker in the red zone was tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. He was sixth in the league in targets (16), which was well behind the top three – Tony Gonzalez (25), Greg Olsen (24) and Brent Celek (24). But Shank's 13 red zone receptions left him alone in second place among tight ends, behind only Heath Miller of the Steelers (14). But where Shiancoe earned his credibility as a top red zone threat came in touchdowns scored. He scored 11 touchdowns in the red zone, which blew away the competition. Vernon Davis finished second with eight and Pro Bowlers Olsen and Dallas Clark finished tied for second with seven touchdown.

The Vikings made the move to the elite teams of the NFL last year and it can't be overlooked that much of that success was due to unprecedented success in the red zone. Can they repeat that performance this year? Considering how dominant they were in 2009, that will be a tall order. However, if they can come anywhere close to replicating the kind of numbers that were produced last year, it will be hard to keep them from being dominant once again.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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