As the Minnesota Vikings return from their bye this week, it's worth circling back on a weapon that should work to their extreme benefit as long as tailback Adrian Peterson is running at his current pace.
The Vikings' play-action game dipped inexplicably at midseason, coinciding roughly with three losses in four games, but the team revived it with a near-perfect implementation Nov. 11 against the Detroit Lions. As the Vikings put up a season-high 34 points, quarterback Christian Ponder completed eight of nine play-action passes for 60 yards and the first touchdown of the game.
As we've discussed, the Vikings aren't constructed to be a high-flying downfield passing team. They don't want to be, and as long as Peterson stays on the field, they don't have to be. That's why the play-action game makes so much sense. Defenders must respect every step that Ponder takes toward Peterson, and any hesitation is enough to give the Vikings' pass-catchers an advantage.
To offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's credit, Ponder has thrown the third-most play-action passes (104) of any quarterback in the NFL. They represent nearly a third of his total attempts (32.3 percent), trailing only Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins (39.4 percent) in frequency.
Like anything else, play-action can become predictable. But we've reached the point of the season when teams shave the fat from their playbook, focus on what they do well and try to ride it to the postseason. The Vikings' play-action game should be a consistent and productive weapon as they make their playoff push.