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Thursday, November 8, 2012
Vikings can run but can't throw play-action

By Kevin Seifert

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Here is a development that doesn't make much sense. During a three-game stretch in which tailback Adrian Peterson has rushed for 458 yards, the Minnesota Vikings haven't been able to capitalize in play action.

In fact, their play-action passing game has taken a significant downturn during the same timeframe.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, quarterback Christian Ponder was completing 74 percent of his play-action passes through the first six weeks of the season, the third-best rate in the NFL. His 574 yards on those passes ranked as the league's fourth-best total.

Over the past three games, however, he has completed only 11 of 22 play-action attempts for 110 yards. That failure has roughly coincided with the disappearance of tight end Kyle Rudolph from the Vikings' offense. Put it all together, and we've stumbled on a significant point of emphasis this week as the Vikings prepare for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.

"We're doing a fantastic job of running the football of late," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said, "and Kyle's been a big part of it. We're looking forward to getting a little more bang for our buck out of our play-action game and Kyle's got to be a big part of that [also]. That's an area for improvement immediately."

I'm not sure what to make of a team losing its play-action effectiveness just as its tailback kicks it into an elite gear. Have the calls been predictable? Possibly. Ponder has been sacked on three of his last 25 play-action dropbacks after taking three in his first 75. Are opponents more prepared for Rudolph to be the recipient of a play-action pass? Musgrave said he has seen no difference in coverage, but I would imagine defenses are quite aware he is a likely target.

Musgrave and coach Leslie Frazier both indicated the Vikings took a fundamental look at their passing game this week after another sub-NFL performance last Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Getting more efficient in the play-action game would be a good start, especially given the precarious condition of receiver Percy Harvin (ankle). But how? That's an answer we'll have to wait on.