Minnesota Vikings  

 

Even without Favre, Vikings can still feature potent offense


The surprising news surrounding Brett Favre has cast a cloud over Minneapolis, but seeming departure doesn't mean that the Vikings are out of title contention.

Sure, the three-time MVP's presence would boost the team's Super Bowl hopes. He's coming off a sensational season in which he posted career bests in several passing categories while leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game.

The success made the Vikings hopeful Favre would return for one more shot. Unfortunately for them, it appears he decided that he didn't have enough left in the tank to endure another season, leaving the Vikings scrambling to revamp their offensive plans.

In looking at how the offense will proceed, it's important to note that the unit has been working without Favre for the entire offseason, and that will lead to a smooth transition under Tarvaris Jackson.

Jackson has 19 career starts with a 77.9 passer rating behind 21 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Although those numbers aren't eye-popping, Jackson was solid as a five-game starter in 2008. He completed more than 59 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and only two interceptions for a 95.4 passer rating. Yet, he is best remembered for his disappointing playoff performance (15 of 35 for 164 yards with an interception) against the Philadelphia Eagles that ultimately led to the team courting Favre during that offseason.

While the thought of Jackson directing the offense might not inspire confidence in fans, it doesn't mean that unit will fall from the ranks of the elite.

Coach Brad Childress will shift his emphasis from the pass-heavy game plan that sparked the Vikings to a top-five finish in total offense last season to a scheme that extensively features the running game.

Adrian Peterson will become the focal point of the attack, and Childress will design his game plan around the running back's dynamic talents. Peterson has rushed for more than 1,300 yards in each of his first three seasons and has 19 100-yard games in 39 starts. Although he regularly faces eight- and nine-man fronts, Peterson finds cracks between the tackles and has recorded 12 runs of more than 40 yards in his three-year career.

With the running game serving as the foundation, Childress will use play-action as the primary component of the passing game. Jackson will routinely fake the stretch and zone run to Peterson before throwing short and intermediate passes off five- or seven-step drops. The play fake will draw up linebackers and create huge passing windows.

Given the explosiveness of Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe, the play-action will allow the Vikings' aerial attack to continue to thrive.

The Vikings will also take advantage of Jackson's athleticism. The team employs a zone-based running scheme that features the inside-zone and stretch play as pertitnent calls, so Jackson could sneak out the back door on bootlegs. With Rice and Berrian capable of getting over the top of defenders, the Vikings could generate "explosive" plays (over 20 yards) by throwing the long ball on the backside of their movement passes.

When the Vikings are looking to connect deep, expect them to use the quick-rhythm passing game that Jackson handled effectively during his early days as the starter. Rice, Berrian, Harvey and Shiancoe are all good runners after the catch, and the high-percentage throws will allow Jackson to quickly distribute the ball to his playmakers.

There's no doubt Favre is one of the top players in NFL history, but his potential retirement won't cripple the team. A few tweaks to an offense filled with talent at other positions will allow Jackson and the Vikings to continue to push the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints for NFC supremacy.

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