[size=13pt]Might tricky Vikings offense have been mislabeled as boring?[/size]

Posted on Mon, Oct. 23, 2006

DAVE CAMPBELL
Associated Press


EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Minnesota's offense, fair or not, has been typecast as an ultraconservative unit unwilling to do much other than run the ball and throw short, high-percentage passes.

Well, the Vikings are quietly showing there might be more to them than that. Sunday's startlingly easy 31-13 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in their noisy stadium including a trick-play touchdown in the third quarter and a 40-yard throw by Brad Johnson to Marcus Robinson that went for a second-quarter score.

"You've just got to try to do what you can to win," receiver Travis Taylor said. "We've played against some good teams, good defenses, so you've got to take advantage of their weaknesses."

This was the second time this season that Minnesota coach Brad Childress successfully called for something sneaky. Against Seattle, reserve running back Mewelde Moore took the handoff and rambled to his right on third-and-goal from the 15-yard line - before stopping, pivoting and throwing a touchdown pass to tight end Jermaine Wiggins with a defender in his face.

In the fourth quarter of a 16-13 overtime win over Carolina on Sept. 17, kicker Ryan Longwell caught a pitch from holder Chris Kluwe and completed a 16-yard scoring toss to backup tight end Richard Owens.

For a coach who constantly stresses the importance of maintaining an even-keel approach, avoiding mistakes, and establishing the running game at all costs, it seems a little out of character for Childress to call for halfback passes and fake field goals. But not to his players.

"It's not something that I haven't seen him do, or couldn't see him thinking of doing," Wiggins said.

There are two clear reasons why there is a perception that this year's Vikings are a little less, uh, thrilling than some of their teams of the recent past.

Without Randy Moss, who provided one of the league's most serious deep threats, there is not as much potential for the big play. Plus, there aren't as many big names on this offense anymore. Also, the system Childress has installed is based on throwing to open spots on the field, not favorite receivers.

"If you want to come see 50-yard bombs, then let's check the coverage," Johnson said, with his jaw slightly clenched. "Let's check the win-loss record after it's over. That's what I look at.

"I'm going to throw where the coverage takes me."

Interestingly enough, Minnesota (4-2) has seen a lot of two-deep zone coverage, a scheme designed to take away the long pass. Most of the throws open for Johnson have been to Chester Taylor out of the backfield. He leads the team with 21 receptions, which isn't even in the top 50 in the league.

But, to support Johnson's point, it's not as if the Vikings haven't come up with their share of long gains, which most people would agree are part of the sport's attraction. They rank fifth in the NFL with 25 plays that went for 20 yards more, with four of those going for touchdowns.

"The way our defense is playing," Travis Taylor said, "we're almost unstoppable. If we continue doing what we're doing on offense ... we're going to be a hard-to-beat team."

Punching it in near the goal line, for now, is still the biggest offensive issue. Minnesota is tied for 30th in the league with a red-zone touchdown conversion rate of only 28.6 percent, scoring four times in 14 possessions. The good news is the other 10 all went for field goals by Longwell.

But maybe that has just been another part of a potential misperception, that the Vikings don't have enough firepower.

"I don't read too much into it, because I think we moved the ball really good this year," Johnson said. "I keep talking about the penalties we've had in the red zone. That's been the problem. There hasn't been anything else to it."