Earlier Monday morning, we discussed a cleverly-crafted defensive game plan featuring an aggressive wrinkle as a key to the Vikings win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. We’d be remiss to not mention the aggressive strategy employed by the Vikings offense early in the game as an important factor in the victory as well.
In last week’s win over the Chicago Bears, it was almost as if the Vikings game-planned for the offense to perform around QB Christian Ponder. In Sunday’s win, though, Ponder was instrumental in the offense’s operation. That was especially the case on the Vikings first drive of the game, a series that required poise from Ponder and featured a few clutch conversions along the way.
It started with a “gotcha” moment on the first play, as the Vikings anticipated St. Louis ganging up to stop Adrian Peterson. Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave called for a play-action pass on 1st down, opening the door for Ponder to rollout and find a wide open Kyle Rudolph in the right flat for a 14-yard gain. That was a nice start. After a 4-yard gain by Peterson on the ground, Ponder rolled right once again and fit a precise pass through a tight window to Jerome Simpson on a crossing route – 11 more yards.
At that point, the Vikings were off to a great start. They forced a St. Louis punt after just 4 plays and were now driving deep into Rams territory. But consecutive rushing plays of -2 yards set the Vikings back to a 3rd and 14 from the St. Louis 20. Out of the gun formation, Ponder zipped a quick slant to Stephen Burton for 13 yards, setting up a 4th and short. Rather than take the conservative approach and send the ever-reliant Blair Walsh onto the field for a quick 3-0 lead, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier elected to be aggressive and go for it on 4th down.
“I knew if we got in that situation early, that was exactly what we wanted to be able to do,” Frazier explained after the game. “We wanted to be aggressive. We talked to our players about it all week long, that we were going to be aggressive in every situation. That was a chance to backup what I had said during the week.”
And it worked. Ponder scrambled for 3 yards to pickup the 1st down, plus a defensive holding penalty gave the Vikings an automatic 1st down anyway. Two more rushes for losses came after the 4th-down conversion, setting the Vikings up with a 3rd and goal from the 5. Ponder dropped back, was in the arms of Rams DE Robert Quinn, escaped, found a crease down the left seam, and dove into the end zone for the TD. He capped the play with an emphatic spike in the end zone, and the Vikings offense was rolling.
On the drive, Ponder was 3 of 3 for 38 yards and added 2 rushes for 8 yards and the TD.
More than just staking the Vikings to an early 7-0 lead, that first offensive series and all it entailed – 5 carries for Peterson, play-action bootlegs, clutch completions and conversions, etc. – helped the Vikings offense gain a rhythm, gain a confidence and set a tone.
“It was big,” Frazier said. “That was a part of what we wanted to be able to design to help us against the eight- and nine-man fronts we knew we were going to get. And sure enough, they came in stacking the box, and we wanted to get Christian on the perimeter and hit some plays on crossing routes. We were effective doing that early. It helped us to open up some of the runs a little bit later.”
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Bill Musgrave, Christian Ponder, Jerome Simpson, Leslie Frazier, Stephen Burton
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