Vikings offensive line bounces back
As Brett Favre became more and more comfortable with his new team, the Vikings gradually changed from a physical, run-first team into one with more finesse.
Coach Brad Childress watched that metamorphosis blow up in his team's face in a 30-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last week. The Vikings were manhandled on both lines of scrimmage and Adrian Peterson rushed for just 19 yards on 13 carries.
Enough was enough.
On Sunday against Cincinnati, the Vikings returned to the power running game that made them one of the best rushing teams in the league in Childress's first three seasons here. And their banged up offensive line responded by paving the way for 142 total yards rushing in a 30-10 victory over the Bengals.
``I think coach did a great job of calling the plays in the run game that let us build on the last play,'' guard Steve Hutchinson said. ``They did a good job of sticking to one theme of a play where we were able to establish and show Adrian and Chester (Taylor) back there how the defense was going to play that look we were showing.''
Peterson rushed for 97 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged a modest 3.7 yards on 26 carries, but the Vikings controlled the line of scrimmage and wore down a physical Bengals defense that had not allowed a team to top 100 yards rushing in the previous eight games.
It also marked a return to form for an offensive line that has been banged up for most of the season. Right guard Anthony Herrera returned after missing the Arizona game with a concussion and rookie right tackle Phil Loadholt shrugged off a shoulder injury to help open holes for the running backs that simply were not there a week ago.
``We knew they were a physical group but look at us,'' Herrera said. ``That's what we base our pride on is being physical. We went out there and it had to be who is the most dominant. The Vikings showed up.''
The key was a straight-ahead game plan that was this team's hallmark before Favre arrived this summer. Rather than trying to get Peterson and Taylor to the outside with tosses and stretch plays, the Vikings made a concerted effort to pound the ball between the tackles.
``We're not really an outside zone team, so we went back to our inside zones,'' tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. ``It was just straight up football. Just mano a mano. It's not positioning and things like that. It's the guard's will against the (defensive) tackle's will. More smashmouth football.''
The strategy paid off. Taylor rushed for 25 yards on five carries and the Vikings (11-2) ran 17 more plays than the Bengals to grind out an important bounce-back win.
``We wanted our backs to be able to run up and down before they ran side to side,'' Childress said Monday. ``It lets our linemen set their pads and be able to thump it up. We just thought that was important to kind of play to our strong suit.''
It was a far cry from last week in the desert, when the Vikings were overwhelmed up front by Arizona's active and aggressive front seven. Peterson averaged a paltry 1.5 yards per carry - many of which were aimed at getting him to the edge on sweeps and tosses - in the 30-17 defeat.
``For whatever reason we were out of sync last week and for the last couple of weeks probably,'' Hutchinson said. ``I think it was more important for us to come out and play together as an offensive unit and get back to what we do best.''
Peterson also had three catches for 40 yards, including an electric 28-yarder in which he beat individual coverage by a linebacker and turned the corner to head up the sidelines.
``Any time that kid gets in space, he's bound to do something that awes everybody,'' Hutchinson said. ``That's the type of player he is. And frankly, as offensive linemen, I don't think we've given him an opportunity to do that as much as he needs to do that the last couple of weeks.''
Peterson still has not topped 100 yards in a game since Nov. 15 against the Lions, but some of that is because he has been on the bench in the fourth quarter of easy victories over the Seahawks, Bears and Bengals. Count him as another fan of the revamped game plan.
``Last week was disappointing,'' Peterson said. ``We watched the film and there wasn't much to say. It was easy to see. We came out with a determined attitude to go out against a good team and show everyone what we can do.''