It’s no secret. The NFL is a passing league. In 2011, only 3 teams (Denver, Houston, San Francisco) ran the ball more frequently than they passed it, and nearly 33% of NFL teams threw the ball in excess of 60% of the time. Also in 2011, 3 NFL QBs (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford) threw for 5,000+ yards and 3 had (Brees, Stafford, Aaron Rodgers) 40+ TD passes.
While it’s no question the preferred method of moving the ball in the NFL is through the air, there are still teams and coaches who place a tremendous value on running the ball. The Vikings and Head Coach Leslie Frazier fall into that category. And it’s for good reason. Since 2007 when the Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson and hired Frazier as defensive coordinator, the Vikings have been the NFL’s best rushing team. They rank first over that span in total rushing yards (11,272), per-carry average (4.7), rushing TDs (92) and runs of 10+ yards (333).
“It’s big for our team,” Frazier said of the running game. “In a League where passing the football has become first for so many teams, we’ve taken a little bit different approach and featuring a guy who we think is the best running back in pro football in Adrian Peterson and because of that, it takes a lot of pressure off our young quarterback as well as our passing game.”
The Vikings understand the importance of being able to move the ball through the air, too. That’s why they signed free agents such as TE John Carlson and Jerome Simpson, and that’s why they used draft picks on the likes of LT Matt Kalil and a pair of WRs in the 4th round (Jarius Wright, Greg Childs). The development of young QB Christian Ponder was priority A for the Vikings this past offseason, and everyone at Winter Park knows Ponder’s progress will be key to future success. Frazier’s contention, though, is that the presence of a productive running game will ease the pressure on Ponder because opponents are forced to figure out a way to contain Peterson and Gerhart before they think about defending the Vikings passing attack.
“Having a guy like the guy that we do have makes us very unique from an offensive standpoint,” Frazier explained, “but it helps us to achieve our goals as a football team, having a good running game and establishing the run for us to run our offense and really win the way we want to win.”
As he’s explained, Frazier wants the Vikings running game to set the tone and allow Ponder and Co. to operate with more freedom. Additionally, being able to run the ball well can shorten a game for a team when it has the lead. But Frazier also explained that his desire to run the ball well is not about being a conservative team that looks to shorten the game and win close contests. Frazier sees the Vikings running game as one with explosion and scoring capability.
“For us, that’s exactly the approach we take but we also believe that we can also get explosive plays through the running game because of who we have at the halfback position,” Frazier said. “It’s not just ground and pound. We have a guy who can break the 20-yard run, the 60-yard run. Most people have to get that throwing the football down the field, and we want to be able to do the same. That’s one of the reasons we made the offseason acquisition of Jerome (Simpson) and try to feature Percy the way we do. But being able to have a balanced attack and still feature our run game is who we are.”
Peterson and Gerhart get most of the credit for the Vikings productive running attack. On Sunday in the season opener, though, another member of the backfield was key to the Vikings ground game – FB Jerome Felton. Both Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave mentioned how well Felton played in his first regular season game as a Viking.
Said Frazier: “He played extremely well and that was a lot of snaps for him. There wasn’t one time a season ago we had that many snaps with our fullback on the field and a lot of it had to do with the way he played and what’s happening when he is on the field. It was really encouraging for all of us to see him dominate the way he did. There may be more opportunities for him as we go forward.”
Said Musgrave: “Jerome Felton played really well. He was a presence out there. He was also a presence on the sideline in terms of being the leader. He suggested a couple of amendments to our game plan during the game and we took them to heart and they really paved the way for good runs there in the second half.”
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Bill Musgrave, Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, Jerome Felton, Jerome Simpson, John Carlson, Leslie Frazier, Matt Kalil, Toby Gerhart
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