It might seem odd that an offense littered with Pro Bowl players would lack direction, but it is obvious after the first quarter of the season that the Minnesota Vikings are suffering from an identity crisis.
If the trade this week for Randy Moss didn't solidify that opinion, then a quick look at the numbers reveals that Brett Favre still serves as the driving force for Minnesota's offense. Despite missing all of training camp and a portion of the preseason, Favre has come out slinging, passing on 55 percent of the Vikings' downs through three games.
Last year, the pass-heavy emphasis worked well. Favre had arguably the best season of his career, as the Vikings won the NFC North with a 12-4 record. However, the approach hasn't been as effective this season, as Favre has struggled finding his rhythm from the pocket. Although he is completing 61.9 percent of his passes, he has already thrown six interceptions (third most in the league) and has amassed a 60.4 passer rating, 28th among starting quarterbacks.
The loss of Sidney Rice robbed Favre of his biggest weapon, but the Vikings still have a talented receiving corps with immense potential. Visanthe Shiancoe has developed into an upper echelon tight end, and Percy Harvin is one of the league's most dangerous slot receivers. Bernard Berrian, the team's marquee free-agent signee three seasons ago, was one of the game's top vertical threats after averaging 20.1 yards per catch during his first season with the Vikings in 2008.
Interestingly, Shiancoe, Harvin and Berrian have been largely ineffective this year, and Favre has struggled without a big, athletic weapon to target for jump-ball situations. Without a classic vertical threat available to stretch the defense, Favre has been unable to incorporate the deep ball into the game plan. Consequently, he is averaging only 6.2 yards per attempt this season, down from 7.9 a year ago.
It's not surprising then that the Vikings felt compelled to make a play for Moss, who remains one of the league's most explosive weapons. His ability to stretch the defense forces opponents to account for him on every play. Although he left New England with only nine receptions (for 139 yards and three touchdowns) after four games, he is coming off a sensational three-year run where he produced 19 receptions of at least 40 yards, and amassed 47 touchdown catches.
Though Moss is still capable of generating that kind of production in a Vikings uniform, it will be interesting to see how he assimilates into Childress' version of the West Coast offense. Traditionally, receivers in this offense are big and physical, and excel at running slants, digs and crossing routes. They thrive at making tough catches between the hashes and display exceptional running skills with the ball in their hands.
Moss is an outstanding vertical route runner with explosive speed and quickness. He has made his living blowing past defenders on three routes -- go, post and post-corner -- and is still capable of dominating from the outside.
But is he a great fit for the Vikings' offense? Not necessarily. He is an undisciplined route runner who is only comfortable running a handful of routes within Minnesota's scheme. While he has occasionally made plays on slants and other in-breaking routes that are a staple of the scheme, he is not comfortable working in traffic between the hashes. Asking him to do so will not likely yield positive results. Moss has been known to turn down throws with defenders in close proximity, and his inconsistent effort makes it tough for the quarterback to target him on possession-type routes.
Moss is also a bit of a freelancer known to alter his routes when he believes he has beaten his defender early. While Minnesota has a quarterback in place with a game built on improvisation, the unpredictable nature of Moss' route running can be problematic if he is not on the same page as the signal-caller.
Given the lack of cohesion between Favre and his receivers, it would appear that Childress' best option for getting his offense back on track would be to rely on Adrian Peterson, whose presence in the backfield opens up the field for rest of the team's weapons.
When faced with the option of slowing down Peterson or Favre, most defensive coordinators would opt to take away the Vikings' running game and put the onus on Favre to win the game. Thus, the offense this season has faced a steady diet of eight-man fronts designed to keep Peterson in check.
However, the load-the-box tactics have not worked, as Peterson is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, more than a half yard more than his career average entering the season. While some players' averages are inflated by long runs, Peterson only has three over 20 yards. He has been grinding out a host of 4- and 5-yard runs to keep the Vikings in favorable situations. It also creates big-play opportunities in the passing game, and eventually leads to points.
The most logical way to get Moss free for big plays in the passing game is the combination of play-action passes and vertical routes. In New England, the majority of his big plays came from run-heavy formations (two-back sets with one tight end and two receivers, or two backs, two tight ends and one receiver) to induce defenses into eight-man fronts, which often left him one on one with corners on the outside. The flow of play-action fakes would draw the play-side safety up and allow Moss to sneak past him on a post or post-corner route for an explosive play.
With Peterson in the backfield, Childress can easily incorporate a number of these play-action deep throws into the game plan to generate more big plays from the passing game. In addition, he can use the threat of the big play to Moss to create bigger running lanes for Peterson.
The addition of Moss and a renewed commitment to the running game could revive the Vikings' aerial attack, and put them back on the road to the Super Bowl.