Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
CLEVELAND -- If you were surprised, you shouldn’t have been. If you were disappointed, you haven’t been paying attention. If you thought the arrival of quarterback Brett Favre would usher in a dramatic new dynamic in Minnesota’s offense, well, you should join the Optimists Club.
What we saw at Browns Stadium was what a realist should expect: An offense that plans on elite play from its star running back. Minnesota was trailing Cleveland 13-10 midway before Adrian Peterson put on one of the greatest shows of his career. After receiving an IV at halftime, Peterson exploded for 155 second-half yards -- capped by a 64-yard touchdown run in which he broke five tackles.
Peterson carried the Vikings to 24 consecutive points to blow open the game, and that’s why the Vikings left Cleveland with a 34-20 victory over a bad Browns team. The Vikings have without question upgraded at quarterback, but there has been nothing this summer to suggest they would change their scheme, emphasis or focus. Peterson will remain the centerpiece -- with good reason, I might add -- and the Vikings won’t ask much of their passing game if they don’t have to.
Favre threw 21 passes Sunday, targeting a running back or a tight end on almost 60 percent of them. Only four of his passes traveled more than 5 yards in the air, according to video tracking from ESPN Stats & Information. In the end, Favre and Peterson both agreed that Cleveland’s defense did exactly what teams have been doing to the Vikings for years. And that’s because the Vikings did the same thing they’ve been doing for years.
“Most of their blitzes were run blitzes,” Favre said. “I know [Browns coach Eric Mangini] and I know he came in, no secret, we have to stop Adrian Peterson. Why would he come in and say, ‘We’re going to come in and stop Brett Favre or Sidney Rice or Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin? We have to stop Adrian Peterson first.’”
There has been some thought that Favre would provide enough balance to pull extra defenders away from the line of scrimmage. But, Peterson said, “I didn’t necessarily see that today. ... Guys were crowding the line of scrimmage, bringing different looks. We knew what was in store. But it’s really not about what those guys do. It’s about what we do.”
Indeed, Peterson ultimately overwhelmed a defense geared solely to stop him. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Peterson averaged 17.8 yards per carry in the second half when the Browns brought at least eight defenders into the box. Vikings coaches made one significant adjustment, expanding their run-play formations, and Peterson took care of the rest. (He gained 148 second-half yards in formations other than a two-back set, according to video tracking.)
“They had some success stopping him early at times,” defensive end Jared Allen said. “But you just keep feeding that guy the ball, and eventually he’s going to break one. Having him takes the pressure off. You saw the run. The guy is phenomenal.”
Just as important as the 64-yard scoring run was the way Peterson came out of the gate after halftime. He’d gained only 25 yards in the first half, feeling lightheaded on a seasonable 70-degree day in Cleveland. Vikings athletic trainers gave him an IV at halftime.
(Someone check and see what was in that bag. Couldn’t have just been saline solution.)
Reinvigorated by whatever means, Peterson ran for 5 yards on the first play of the third quarter. He went for 6 yards on the next and then ended the drive with a 1-yard scoring dive on third-and-1. On the Vikings’ next drive, Peterson amassed another 36 yards before Favre hit Harvin for a 6-yard touchdown pass.
Favre converted a key pass on each drive, and afterward said his 21-yard pass to Harvin was “the type of play we have to make.” But sitting here in the stadium, it seemed evident the Vikings were feeding off Peterson’s energy first and foremost. To me, the pass to Harvin was an illustration of how Minnesota will ask Favre to execute what they do -- but not to add another layer to their offense. What the Vikings do is simple: Hand the ball to Peterson and throw mid-range timing passes, especially while Berrian (zero receptions) works on his chemistry with Favre.
Based on Week 1, at least, we can say that Favre is a complementary player for the first time in his career. The Vikings have more offensive weapons than they’ve ever had under coach Brad Childress, thanks to the addition of Harvin and the return of Rice, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to morph away from their core beliefs.
They’re still going to be the team that’s more likely to throw a shovel pass on a third down in the red zone, as they did -- unsuccessfully -- prior to Ryan Longwell’s 37-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. They’re going to be the team that teases you with a new formation -- Harvin and Peterson opposite each other in a shotgun formation -- and use it only twice. (The plays combined for 28 yards.)
And without fail, they’re going to continue to pound Peterson no matter how he fares in the early going. To put his 180-yard game into perspective, consider that it ranks as the fourth-best output in his 31-game career. It was the seventh time he's gained at least 150 yards over that span.
“We know what we have,” cornerback Antoine Winfield said. “We have an elite player. He’s a team player that works hard every day and gives you 100 percent of his effort. Every time he touches the ball, he’s running with a purpose: That’s to get as many yards as you can and to punish someone. I’m just glad he’s on my team.”
Not that it should be any surprise.