The secret is out. Interim coach Leslie Frazier wants to pull back on the passing game and re-emphasize the run. That approach was clearly evident during Sunday's game, as the Vikings ran a season-high 38 times, even giving rookie tailback Toby Gerhart 22 carries after Adrian Peterson departed with an ankle injury. Monday, Frazier said he wants to have a "dominant run defense" and a "dominant run offense," the original tenets of former coach Brad Childress. "We lost our identity along the way," Frazier said. In reality, the Vikings transformed themselves because of the remarkable success quarterback Brett Favre had as a passer last season. But this is a different year. And more than anything, I think Frazier recognized that he needed to limit Favre's impact after committing 22 turnovers in their first 11 games. This is a passing league, but the Vikings have proved this season that they couldn't be a passing team.
It sounds like the Vikings are still gathering information on Peterson's sprained ankle. Frazier said he wants to see what, if anything, Peterson can do in practice on Wednesday. But you're talking about a running back with an ankle injury significant enough that the Vikings' medical staff wouldn't let him back into the game Sunday. Peterson has missed only two games in his career, both in 2007 when he tore the lateral collateral ligament in his knee, and has an enormous pain threshold. But at the very least, you would think the Vikings will have more depth available to them Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. Backups Gerhart and Albert Young should both be on alert.
It didn't necessarily show up in the box score, but defensive tackle Kevin Williams had what Frazier termed his best game of the season. Williams knocked down three passes, but more importantly, he spearheaded a defense that limited the Redskins to 29 yards rushing on 13 carries, none that went for longer than four yards. I realize the Redskins were playing without Clinton Portis and Ryan Torain, but those are the types of numbers the Vikings put up during their consecutive NFC North titles runs. And it's obviously something Frazier wants to resurrect during his tenure.
And here is one issue I don't get:
When we watch the Vikings over this final stretch, how much of what they do will be emblematic of Frazier's long-term vision? And how much will just be his attempt to win games with the infrastructure he inherited? It's an important distinction. It was prudent to pull back on Favre this week. But is Frazier a conservative, run-first coach? Or does he just see it as the best path for this team? At some point, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf will make an evaluation of Frazier's performance and determine if it's worthy of the permanent job. Will he get what he sees? Or will he get a pragmatist? Either option is fine. It's just important to know.