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Sunday, October 7, 2012
Vikings let Percy Harvin do his thing

By Kevin Seifert

Percy Harvin
Percy Harvin had eight receptions for 108 yards and also scored twice against the mismatched Titans.
MINNEAPOLIS -- One of the smartest moves we've seen in the NFL this season is arguably the simplest. It can be accounted for with six syllables.

Let Percy do his thing.

There are a number of reasons why the Minnesota Vikings are 4-1 after Sunday's 30-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans. We've noted the progress of quarterback Christian Ponder as well as the emergence of a youthful energy on defense. After five games, however, I think it's fair to say the Vikings are an efficient team with the exception of one player who is performing at the highest level imaginable.

Coaches are getting the ball to Percy Harvin in the most obvious ways possible, and for the most part opponents have been helpless in their attempts to stop him. In the process of scoring two touchdowns Sunday, one via a dive play and one on a bubble screen, Harvin eluded or ran over seven would-be tacklers who had been unblocked and had direct access to him. He finished with 116 all-purpose yards on 10 touches, bringing his season total to an NFL-high 814 yards.

It all came on a day when tailback Adrian Peterson (ankle) and receiver Jerome Simpson (leg) were both limited for portions of the game, and against an opponent that appeared schematically well-prepared for the ways the Vikings get Harvin the ball. Sunday, five of his eight receptions came on throws at or behind the line of scrimmage.

"Show me a better player in the NFL right now that's doing more for his team," linebacker Chad Greenway. "You just can't find one."

(Related: Last week's post on Harvin's MVP candidacy.)

Indeed, Harvin has contributed at least 84 receiving yards to four of the Vikings' five games this season. In the fifth, against the Detroit Lions, he returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

Most of his offensive yardage has come in hard-earned and relatively small chunks, the kind that make any one highlight an unfair representative of his cumulative effect. But after he embarrassed the Titans on plays the Vikings have run "a million times" this season, Ponder said half-jokingly, rare accolades were flowing from the locker room.

"He is the best football player I've ever played with," Peterson said.

"For his size," said cornerback Antoine Winfield, "it's unbelievable the way he plays. Very physical. The best run after-the-catch receiver I've ever seen. He runs like a running back."

Consider this sequence of plays Sunday:
  1. From the Vikings' 39-yard line in the first quarter, Harvin provided a reminder of his sprinter's speed. He lined up as a traditional outside receiver, ran past cornerback Alterraun Verner -- the Titans' best cover man -- and caught a 45-yard pass in stride.
  2. Four plays later, Harvin lined up as a halfback at the Titans' 4-yard line and barreled over right guard for a touchdown. Linebacker Colin McCarthy missed him after an inside cut, and Harvin ran over cornerback Ryan Mouton and safety Robert Johnson, who converted near the goal line, and then Verner.
  3. In the third quarter, Harvin lined up in the right slot on a third-down play from the Titans' 10-yard line. At the snap, he drifted backward about 6 yards before catching a bubble screen pass. He juked past two defenders, safety Jordan Babineaux and McCarthy, just to get back to the line of scrimmage. He then accelerated past linebacker Akeem Ayers and into the end zone.
As best as I can tell, none of those seven players were blocked. Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil said there were "a lot of plays when we're not near him." And the Titans didn't appear surprised by the way the Vikings got the ball to Harvin. In a league where obvious athletic mismatches are rare, Harvin was just operating at a higher plane.

"Defenses are doing a good job of trying to be there," Ponder said, "but Percy is making plays."

According to Harvin, multiple opponents have told him they can't believe how strong and/or fast he is.

"I just laugh," he said, "and say, that's my job."

But imagine where the Vikings would be without a player who could perform this particular job. This season, according to ESPN's Stats & Information, more than half of his receptions -- 22 of 39 -- have come on passes at or behind the line of scrimmage. He has averaged 8.14 yards on those receptions.

Consider those numbers for a moment. An offense with a young quarterback and relatively few big-time playmakers has a unique talent who can turn the safest, most efficient passes into consistently big gains. Harvin is doing it with rare strength, speed and football instincts, recognizing that this offense needs every yard it can get.

"Around here," Harvin said, "we account for every yard. ... Yards are hard to come by. I want all of them."

So far this season, no NFL player has maximized his opportunities more than Harvin.

How simple it is.

Let Percy do his thing.