There are two things that are not what one would consider a ‘secret'- first, that the NFL has rapidly transitioned into a passing league, with many teams eschewing the running game and several even going with ‘run by committee' rather than relying on one talented back. Most Super Bowl teams over the past decade have not featured particularly strong run games. The second non-secret would be of course that Minnesota does NOT fall into that description; nay, the run game has been our bread and butter for some time on offense. With Adrian Peterson featuring largely as the king in this department since being drafted, we've also had outstanding backups in the form of Chester Taylor and now Toby Gerhart.
And of course a final non-secret would be that said king of the run game may or may not be ready to reclaim his throne come Game 1. Now, count me in with two groups of people- those who hope he is ready and running free Game 1, and those who regardless still want the coaching staff to play it safe, and would prefer he be sitting for a few games as opposed to letting him go out too soon and get reinjured, a la Cedric Griffin.
Since Coach Frazier has indicated that the team will indeed be cautious with their workhorse back, what should the Vikings do in his Purple Jesusness' absence? While the seemingly obvious answer would be to give the ball to Gerhart and let him SMASH!, or even involve a couple of other talented runners such as Percy Harvin and/or Joe Webb in AP's place, at what level does the run game factor into the Vikings offense without AP?
LEAP OF FAITH!
In 2011, the Vikings ran the ball 44.48% of the time. That's pretty heavy in today's NFL. By comparison, the Super Bowl winning Giants ran the ball 39.98% of the time- a 4.5% difference. Of course, the Giants pretty much sucked at running the ball, whereas we were pretty good at it.
...and of course, we as a team pretty much sucked, whereas the Giants won the Super Bowl.
Now, this is not an argument that is meant to lead to a ‘trade Peterson the running game no longer counts in today's NFL' theory. I am not a fan of saying ‘every team has always done this to win the Super Bowl so we gotta do it too'... that sounds like something Tom Coughlin, Bill Belichick, et al have NEVER said. Teams win their Super Bowls in their own ways, and there's no reason to believe that the Vikings can't do that with a powerhouse run game. Hell, San Francisco's amazing resurgence was fueled by a potent run game, not a stellar passing attack fueled by a future HoF QB's arm. So just cram that talk now.
However- if AP's out for six games, should we ‘experiment' with becoming more pass heavy, or do we continue the trend of pounding ‘em down with a heavy run game featuring Gerhart? It's an interesting debate. On one hand, going pass heavy would allow us to develop Christian Ponder as well as his younger/ newer receivers more. It might also help open up the run game later on when AP does return. On the other, you're looking at a potentially dramatic playbook shift on AP's return, assuming we do then transition back to a run-oriented offense.
This isn't meant to doubt Gerhart's abilities- I'm sure he'll be just fine either way, as he showed last season in his relief role. That said, Gerhart is no AP, plain and simple. Is he a guy an offense can be designed around a la Peterson? I would have to argue probably not, but he could prove me wrong.
What say you, fellow Viking fandom? If AP sits out six games, should the Minnesota Vikings remain a run-dedicated offense with Gerhart at the helm (and some Harvin and maybe Webb to mix things up), or should we transition to a more ‘traditional' pass heavy offense in his absence? Let's hear it.