Pass poor: Vikings have much to improve on

The Minnesota Vikings have based their offense on the elite

abilities of Adrian Peterson.

Success in the NFL doesn’t come these days without balance,

though, and the Vikings were reminded anew in their season opener

they can’t be too reliant on their star running back.

They averaged more than 6 yards per rush – Peterson gained 98

yards on 16 carries – but the glaring problem in the 24-17 defeat

Sunday in San Diego was the lack of punch from the passing

game.

Donovan McNabb threw for only 39 yards – yes, 39 – in his

Minnesota debut. That was the fewest in a game for the Vikings

since 1971.

”There are some things that he’ll definitely want to improve

on,” coach Leslie Frazier said. ”But if you look at the entire

team, there are some things that we need to improve on as a team,

which in turn will help him and help our football team. But he did

some good things in that ballgame.”

McNabb didn’t have much help, and he didn’t look that bad. He

completed just 7 of 15 passes, but the interception he threw on his

first snap was a batted ball on the line. His only deep throw, to

Bernard Berrian on third down midway through the fourth quarter,

was hurried by pressure from the Chargers, yet still hit Berrian in

the hands despite being behind the receiver. Tight end Visanthe

Shiancoe also dropped what would’ve been a first-down pass early in

the third quarter.

Plus, whether it was play calling or leaks in the protection,

McNabb opted for dump-offs or safe, short throws to Peterson and

Percy Harvin seven other times – completing four of them. He took

two sacks and took off running three times, for a total of 32

yards. Left tackle Charlie Johnson had trouble with his pass

blocking, and the rush came from other places, too.

Center John Sullivan said he believed the Vikings were ”pretty

solid” with their protection.

”There’s obviously improvements to be made, little things in

technique and communication. We’re still breaking it in. Obviously

it needs to happen quickly because we’re into the real games now,”

Sullivan said. ”All in all, I think it was a good start. You just

wish the outcome was different.”

The Vikings held a 17-7 lead into the third quarter, but the

defense had its own second-half problems with downfield tackling

and covering the middle of the field. Chargers quarterback Philip

Rivers found a rhythm by looking away from his primary receivers

and completing several key throws to his running backs and tight

ends. Time of possession was a major factor in the discrepancy

between the two passing attacks: San Diego held the ball for 20

minutes and 56 seconds in the second half to Minnesota’s measly

9:04.

”It wasn’t like they changed what they were doing coverage-wise

on defense or what they were doing front-wise,” Frazier said. ”It

was pretty much what we expected. We didn’t execute as well, and we

have to get better on third down. If you want to stay on the field,

you have to convert third downs.”

The message from Frazier and the players Monday was consistency,

and the coach said he’s ”really encouraged” by a lot of

developments during the game. Many times in sports, however,

inconsistency is merely a sign of deficiencies, not an inability to

focus or a lack of effort.

”It’s going to take some time to jell. Growing pains? You could

call it that,” Shiancoe said. He added: ”The Chargers are a good

team. We’ve got to give them props. All I can say is we’re going to

get to work, and this offense is going to improve.”

Peterson said he’s ”very confident” in Frazier and offensive

coordinator Bill Musgrave and their plan.

”It could have worked out and it could have been productive,

but obviously it wasn’t,” Peterson said. ”So we’ll just make the

proper adjustments, and ultimately I feel like we’ll be OK.”

Getting the tight ends more involved is a good place to start,

because Musgrave’s system puts them in heavy use. Neither Shiancoe

nor Kyle Rudolph or Jim Kleinsasser had a catch in the game. The

run-run-pass predictability is a cycle the Vikings must escape,

too, if they’re going to have some offensive success.

”We have to be aware of how people are going to try to defend

us,” Frazier said. ”This game will hopefully be one of those that

we’ll look back at and say, `That game helped us.”’

NOTES: Shaun Phillips swatted McNabb’s first pass and caught it

for the interception, showing exceptional anticipation and

athleticism on that play. Frazier said McNabb called an audible,

changing the play from a handoff to Peterson to a quick pass to

Harvin in the flat. Johnson was supposed to try to cut block in

that situation to keep the defensive end’s hands out of the way.

”He made a great play,” Frazier said of Phillips. … The Vikings

changed backup centers on Monday, waiving Jon Cooper and signing

Joe Berger, a seven-year veteran let go by the Miami Dolphins last

week. Berger played at Division II Michigan Tech. … After missing

all four preseason games, Shiancoe said his hamstring felt fine.

”I was in better shape than I thought. I wasn’t getting tired at

all.”

Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter:

http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP