Chalkboard: Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings’ Run Blocking

ADCoverThere’s no doubt that Adrian Peterson is one of the greatest running backs of all time and we saw more evidence of that Thursday night against Washington.

As good as Peterson can be though, he’s even better when his offensive line is blocking. During long stretches of Thursday night’s game, that wasn’t the case, but really that just highlighted how good he was.

And how much more impressive he is when the blocking is there.

Today, we’ll break down two of Peterson’s big runs from Thursday night.

18-yard Touchdown Run, 5:17 1st Quarter

This run was largely one which happened because of Peterson’s speed and elusiveness. Once he was at the second level, tacklers just couldn’t get a bead on him.

That said, for several runs prior to this Peterson had been struggling because the offensive line just couldn’t make the blocks he needed.

On this play, he got the sort of support he got more frequently during his 2012 NFL campaign.

Peterson lined up well in the backfield with fullback Jerome Felton set forward and to his right and quarterback Christian Ponder under center.

Tight end John Carlson and receiver Greg Jennings are also to Peterson’s right—the formation is heavily weighted right.

ADTDrunpresnapAt the snap, as announcer Mike Mayock mentions, center John Sullivan steps forward to engage the defensive lineman directly in front of him.

ADTDrun1stblockThere are a few things also worthy of note but not brought up on the broadcast. The left side of the line—left tackle Matt Kalil and backup center/guard Joe Berger do an excellent job sealing off the rush on that side and clearing the run lane.

Wide receiver Jerome Simpson (near the bottom of the screen) also gets out and sets up a nice block.

Sullivan passes off the defender he initially engages in to right guard Brandon Fusco, then steps out to pick up an incoming linebacker, Perry Riley.

ADTDrunLaneBoth sides of the line do a really nice job creating space, though Peterson himself shows off his vision and ability to “get small” in order to get through the sliver of space in front of him.

Once he gets to the second level, Peterson cuts the run outside to his left and turns on his speed. A few bad angles by tacklers later and he’s chalking up his eighth touchdown.

16-yard Run, :41 1st Quarter

Another solid example of good blocking came at the close of the 1st quarter.

The Vikings were on their own 43-yard line on second down with five yards to go.

Peterson had just caught a pass for five yards and the Vikings were driving down the field attempting to respond to a Washington touchdown.

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The Vikings went four wide, spreading the defense and trying to keep them from stacking eight or nine men in the box in case Paterson ran. Peterson is the lone back, with no blockers or anyone else in the backfield save Ponder, who is in the shotgun.

Spreading the defense out gives the offensive line a better advantage in numbers—with receivers on either side of the line going out, there will only be the front four of Washington’s 4-3 clogging up running lanes.

The linebackers will probably initially hold off to drop into coverage, only stepping up when Peterson is well on his way to the hole.

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As you can see after the snap, the offensive line does a great job of holding off the pass rush, save for Sullivan who has a little bit of an issue with his buddy from the touchdown run, Perry Riley.

Save for that, though, you can see that the line is firing out and has the defensive line on it’s heels. And since the defense was spread out, there is a spare offensive lineman—guard Brandon Fusco.

As you can see on the screen-capture, Fusco immediately gets to the second level and is in perfect position to throw a block at either of the linebackers there—both of whom are still hesitating to make sure the hand-off really happens and isn’t a play-action.

You can also see receiver Greg Jennings just off the left tackle, moving out as if going on a route. That holds a linebacker in place but also will allow Jennings to block for Peterson momentarily.

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Sullivan shoves Riley out of the play as Peterson heads to the “6” hole, just off the right tackle, where receiver Joe Webb is blocking as well.

Note that Fusco and Jennings are now about to engage the linebackers in preparation for when Peterson reaches the second level.

As it stands, there is nobody in position to stop him the running back from doing so either.

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Once Peterson gets through the hole, the blocking up ahead by Fusco and Jennings—as well as the receivers on the far edges of the play—allow him to have multiple choices and angles to take the ball.

This is where Peterson is most dangerous, at the second level with open space. He’s a pain to bring down at or behind the line but when he has space and speed he’s an absolute nightmare.

AD16ydpostsnap5

With a safety coming up to fill the gap to his right, Peterson wisely follows his blockers, which gives them about six more yards before he is brought down.

There’s a lot that Peterson can do on his own, but the difference between when he has to, versus when he has solid blocking is phenomenal.

When the Vikings offensive line can fire out and hit their blocks, Peterson goes from “dangerous” to “potentially lethal to the opposition.”

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

 

 

What We Saw: Washington at Minnesota

image via NFL.com

Amazingly, losing to Minnesota didn’t wipe out Washington’s chances to win the NFC East and continue on into the playoffs.

That’s right, a 3-6 team is still in the playoff hunt! If Dallas loses to New Orleans while Philadelphia loses to Green Bay—both entirely possible—they’re just two games behind the division leader.

Minnesota is not that lucky.

This is a game which was far more entertaining than people expected even if it wasn’t Oregon-Stanford.

What else did we learn Thursday night?

image via USAToday.com

  • Apparently running Adrian Peterson is a good thing. Who knew? Certainly not offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave before last night. Don’t get caught up in Peterson’s 3.8 yards-per-carry fool you—he ran incredibly well despite multiple defenders in the backfield and his 18-yard touchdown run in the first was just one of a ton of incredible runs Thursday night.

image via SI.com

  • Musgrave, by the way, continues to show no inclination to adjust his offense to make things easier on his quarterbacks or take advantage of the talent around him. Aside from usually limiting Peterson to 13 carries this year, Thursday night saw the continued squandering of rookie Cordarrelle Patterson’s incredible ability after the catch. While it’s likely that Patterson is still learning the playbook and improving his route running and positioning—remember he only had a single season of FBS (formerly Division 1-A) in college— he can clearly handle simple screens, outs and slants. Yet here we are, just after Week 10’s game and the offense is just as vanilla as it was in Week 1. Last year we wrote it off because of injuries to Percy Harvin and Christian Ponder struggling. This year? Those excuses shouldn’t fly.

image via WashingtonPost.com

  • Over the last four games, Washington’s defense has collapsed at some point in the second half every single time. That they are 2-2 in that stretch is a testament to Robert Griffin III and the offense, the incompetence of whomever they were playing or blind luck. Someone needs to tell the defense you play four quarters at the NFL level. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett seems to be making anti-adjustments in the second half and teams are finding ways to crack what should be a solid defense.

image via USAToday.com

  • It’s said in every column so you’ve heard it before but Griffin needs to stop playing like he’s Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton. He doesn’t have the build to take the hits those guys do. He’s built like a sprinter—they are built like running backs. He has been running smarter but is still far too prone to taking big hits he shouldn’t.

image via KSTP.com

  • The Vikings have to be frustrated with Ponder’s dislocated shoulder since they still don’t know what they have in him. That said, they spent the money on Josh Freeman so expect to see him in Week 11 so they can figure out if he’s worth keeping. He’s now been in Minnesota long enough to have a grasp of the playbook. It’s not like it’s a complex offense, right Mr. Musgrave?

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

3 Questions about: Washington at Minnesota

image via NFL.com

It’s safe to wonder if the Minnesota Vikings are a bit deflated after the collapse which cost them the win against the Dallas Cowboys last week.

At the same point Robert Griffin III and the whole Washington team seems to be on the upswing and, in a division which is a tire fire (even the New York Giants are technically in it) that momentum could well propel them into the playoffs after a start which looked disastrous.

Here are three things to watch tonight in the game.

  • Is it possible for Minnesota offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to get less creative? We already have a situation where the plays seem to be so bland that armchair linebackers across the NFL fanbase can call them out. Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson is admittedly raw, but tremendously dangerous with the ball in his hands. Yet the team can’t seem to find ways to get him involved more than two or three snaps. They don’t seem to be able to do much than the most basic plays across the board. That’s on Musgrave and if he wants to keep his job, he should try to show us more than we’ve seen so far.
  • Can Washington’s defense hold onto a lead? Last week they let San Diego back into a game that should have been sewn up. The week before that, they beat on Denver for three quarters only to collapse in the fourth. They’ll lead Thursday night against Minnesota—perhaps from the very first quarter. But it;s not how you start, it’s how you finish and the last few weeks, the defense hasn’t been finishing strong.
  • Both quarterbacks come into the game with questions circling them. For Robert Griffin III, it’s the continued concern he came back too soon and still plays in such a way as to beg to end up hurt again. Can he start playing a bit more safely, get out of bounds and avoid the big hits? Meanwhile Christian Ponder has not really improved since taking over for Donovan McNabb in 2012. He still makes one read and pulls the ball down far too often. Perhaps the microscopic improvement is, in part, due to Musgrave’s lackluster playcalling but all too often Ponder gets impatient and pulls the ball down when he shouldn’t. Thought that’s better than when he forces the ball into excellent coverage.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

Chalkboard: Packers Jordy Nelson’s 76-yard Touchdown Highlights Chemistry with Aaron Rodgers

Bromance! Rodgers and Nelson are a match made in NFL production heaven. (image via SI.com)

It’s taken place quietly, but this season has shown the NFL that there are few—if any—better quarterback/wide receiver combinations in the NFL than the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson.

That was on constant display Sunday night when the Packers—minus three key pieces in Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb and James Jones—took the field and appeared to have not even missed a beat.

Yes, props need to go to Jarrett Boykin and Myles White, two players who were an afterthought going into the season and Eddie Lacy, who has given this team a legitimate ground game.

Still, it was Nelson who Rodgers looked too most in the game and Nelson who caught all but one pass thrown his way.

Rodgers knows where Nelson is, where he will be and that if he puts the ball anywhere near Nelson, the receiver will catch it. We saw it all day Sunday, just as we have all season.

Nelson’s 76-yard touchdown in the second quarter was a great example of all of the above, but also featured an interesting defensive shift which Rodgers saw and was able to take advantage of.

NelsonTD1

The play takes pace on a 3rd-and-6 in the second quarter with the game tied 10-10.

The Packers set up with four wide receivers and just fullback John Kuhn in the backfield. White is in the slot (or “Y”) position, while Boykin is lined up at flanker (or the “Z”). Both are off the line of scrimmage.

On the far side (top of the picture), tight end Andrew Quarless is lined up at split end (or “X”). Jordy Nelson is lined up on the line in the spot where the tight end would normally be, which might be part of the reason why the pass works so well.

The Vikings are lining up in their 4-3, despite defensive end Everson Griffin up and walking around. He eventually settles inside, though he remains upright without his hand in the dirt.

NelsonTDGBroutesAs Rodgers snaps the ball, all four receivers head out on routes, as well as Kuhn. The Packers keep nobody back to help protect Rodgers so the line has to hold up and Rodgers needs to get the ball out as soon as possible.

Kuhn runs a screen while Quarless clears out the cornerback with a short slant in. Boykin runs a post route while White goes underneath with a short slant.

Nelson also appears to run a post, though his cut is very shallow, so he might have been running a go and just adjusted to Rodgers as he ran.

NelsonTDMINstuntMeanwhile, when the ball is snapped the Vikings run what I call a “ripple stunt.” A regular old stunt is when two players on the defense (usually defensive linemen but sometimes they involve linebackers or defensive backs) trade roles in the hopes that the offense will be confused, making it easier for the defenders to beat them and get after the quarterback.

This particular stunt is what’s sometimes referred to as cross-rushing—when a defensive lineman drops back and a linebacker charges forward hoping to take the offensive line by surprise.

I call this a ripple stunt because it involves three players in a sort of waterfall effect.

Griffin drops back to the linebacker position while strongside linebacker Chad Greenway shifts to the right and middle linebacker Erin Henderson blitzes. If you’re wondering where the other outside linebacker is, it looks as though he was replaced on this play with an extra defensive back. No. 35, Marcus Sherels is lined up across from White and blitzes.

Which is a gamble anyway because it leaves White completely uncovered. If Sherels doesn’t get to Rodgers in time—and he doesn’t—Rodgers has an outlet for the first down anyway.

It’s not a bad stunt as far as gambles go, but it has one (other) fatal flaw.

NelsonTD3Looking at the left side of the above screen-capture, you can see how far Greenway has to go to get in position to cover Nelson.

All things being equal, Greenway does a good job getting over to Nelson, though his momentum is moving in the wrong direction and his back is to Rodgers.

Still, he’s where he is supposed to be.

Here’s where that remarkable chemistry between Rodgers and Nelson comes in.

Nelson knows he essentially has Greenway beat. He knows the ball will be coming quickly and he has to be ready.

Meanwhile, Rodgers likely read the coverage shift as soon as the snap went off (assuming this isn’t something he saw in film study last week) and loved the mismatch of a linebacker on Nelson. He also knows that the sooner he gets the ball into Nelson’s hand, the better.

So Rodgers gets the ball out quickly and Nelson is ready for it when it rips past Greenway’s ear.

Because Greenway’s momentum is going the wrong direction, he loses precious moments as he tries to adjust.

Meanwhile, Nelson accelerates and few bad angles and missed tackles later, he’s in the end zone.

This was just one example of the synergy that Nelson and Rodgers have. The first touchdown Nelson caught was much the same sort of throw—pinpoint accurate and on a rope.

Rodgers knows he can throw it that way to Nelson because he knows Nelson will make that catch happen 99 times out of 100.

As for the Vikings, this is the sort of gamble which can pay off big but when it goes wrong, it really stings. While the real kill-shot was probably the 93-yard punt return touchdown by Mycah Hyde two minutes later, this was the play which really seemed to open up things for the Packers’ offense.

In a close game a gamble like that can turn things in your favor. In this case, it started an avalanche of momentum that spelled doom for the Vikings.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.