In-game charting from ESPN Stats & Information uncovers a revealing approach the Vikings have taken with tailback Adrian Peterson, who is still recovering from December knee surgery. In four games this season, 94 percent of his carries and total yards have come on runs between the tackles. Sunday, none of his 21 carries went outside of the tackles. In previous seasons, Peterson has run between the tackles anywhere from 69.7 percent (2009) to 81.6 percent (2010). When the trend is so clear after a fair sample size, it's fair to call it intentional. It makes perfect sense to maximize what Peterson still has -- strength and power -- rather than force what is still coming around, namely his speed and explosion out of cuts. Regardless, Peterson had more bounce in his step Sunday than at any point this season. He finished with 102 yards on 21 carries while playing the highest percentage of the Vikings' snaps (79) since he returned.
The debut of receiver Jerome Simpson coincided with one of the worst passing days, in terms of net yards, by an NFL team this season. But Simpson absolutely had an impact on this game as a deep threat. His leaping 27-yard reception, the Vikings' second-longest this season, extended a fourth-quarter possession and required the Lions to use two extra timeouts. In the first half, meanwhile, Simpson drew a pair of pass interference calls. So looked at one way, Simpson accounted for 107 yards of offense on six plays -- four catches for 50 yards and two penalties for 57. Maybe that's why usually dispassionate coach Leslie Frazier had Simpson in a bear hug when the game was over. The Vikings couldn't have hoped for too much more in his first game of 2012.
It's been a while since we've seen two safeties play as well in the same game as Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford did Sunday. Between the two of them, they defended six passes. Smith's biggest hit dislodged the ball from receiver Calvin Johnson in the end zone, while Sanford forced and recovered a fumble by Lions running back Mikel Leshoure. It was Sanford's second forced fumble since replacing the injured Mistral Raymond in Week 3. They were not perfect, of course, and Smith should have intercepted a deep pass to Johnson on the first play of the game. But it's amazing how much better a defense looks when its safeties can make a play on well-thrown balls to good receivers who are open. It's been years since the Vikings had even a glimpse of that potential.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
The Vikings are the darlings of the NFL after a wholly unexpected 3-1 start, including two victories against 2011 playoff teams. But with that success brings added scrutiny, and it's fair to question whether the Vikings can sustain on the low-octane offensive model displayed at various points during this start. Let's be clear on how rare it is to win a game without an offensive touchdown, as the Vikings did Sunday. For this franchise, at least, it hasn't happened since a 2005 victory over the New York Giants. It's a once-in-seven-years kind of thing. The Vikings scored six points Sunday aside from Percy Harvin's 105-yard kickoff return and Marcus Sherels' 77-yard punt return. But maybe that's the point. Perhaps this team's identity will be to find ways to win, without any theme or trend. Eventually in the NFL, confidence snowballs.