Toby Gerhart (Pablo Martinez Monsivias/AP)
Leslie Frazier said the Vikings had lost their identity before he became the interim head coach. So far, his return to the basics produced a road win, something the Vikings hadn’t experienced since Nov. 1, 2009. See what he had to say about it and the statistics that back it up.
Leslie Frazier didn’t want to give away his philosophy before his first game as interim head coach, telling reporters that they would see it come through in Sunday’s game.
Frazier and the Vikings snapped a nine-game road losing streak by saddling up their running backs and working those horses hard. It didn’t matter that Adrian Peterson was lost to an ankle injury only five minutes into the second quarter. They held to the “next man up” mantra and rookie Toby Gerhart had what was easily the best day of his 11-game career.
By the time the Vikings were done wearing out the Redskins in a 17-13 win, they had rushed a season-high 38 times for 137 yards.
“(That’s) who we’ve been when we’ve had our most success as a team if you look at our history. Even going back to ’08, when we won the NFC North, we were a dominant run defense, a dominant run offense, and I think that’s who we are,” Frazier said. “We kind of lost our identity along the way, but we should be able to run the football on anybody. With a Hall of Fame quarterback that we have, we start getting eight-man fronts, then we should have some success when that happens.”
It didn’t hurt that the Redskins entered the game ranked 27th in the league by giving up an average of 131 rushing yards per game, but credit Frazier and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell with sticking to their philosophy.
When Brett Favre signed with the Vikings before the 2009 season, he talked often about the benefit of having Peterson, but as Favre passed his way to his best season as a pro last year with 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, it appeared the coaching staff became enamored with having a future Hall of Fame quarterback running their offense.
Frazier said there were a lot of factors that contributed to the Vikings “losing their identity.”
“But the key for us is, as we go forward beginning now with Buffalo, that we just remain true to who we are as a team and not forget the things that are necessary for us to win here in Minnesota,” he said.
It’s impossible to know how many rushing yards the Vikings might have had if Peterson hadn’t suffered a sprained right ankle in the second quarter, but Gerhart performed well in his stead. The rookie carried the ball 22 times for 76 yards and a touchdown – his previous high was five carries – but the Vikings also used a variety of other ball carriers to get it down. They motioned Percy Harvin into the backfield several times and he tied his season high with three carries. Tight end/H-back Jeff Dugan hadn’t carried the ball all year, but he had two rushes. The Vikings also moved the pocket and rolled Favre out of the pocket and he had five carries for nine yards, including a game-sealing 10-yard run on a bootleg.
Frazier wanted the offensive play-calling to reflect his emphasis on limiting turnovers, and the 38 rushes compared to 23 pass attempts reflected that philosophy.
“That was a major part of the emphasis. We felt like if we could do some of the things we did on Sunday, it should lessen the turnovers and also help our defense, help our special teams, because in our game, when you put people on short fields, it’s just tough, and turnovers are so huge when it comes to turning momentum,” Frazier said. “We wanted to be able to be on the upside of that for a change, and it happened (Sunday). But we really believed if we played to our strengths as a team – running the football, playing great run defense, which is what we’ve done when we’ve been at our best – that we have a great chance of being successful.”
Frazier’s playing days were cut short by a knee injury in the Super Bowl following Chicago’s dominating 1985 season, and he was asked last week if his days with Walter Payton would influence his use of Peterson. At the time, Frazier wanted to keep his philosophy hidden from the opposition, but Sunday was only the third time this season the Vikings had more rushes than passes and it was the first time that disparity went into double digits. It seems clear that a run-often mentality will be the calling card of Frazier’s Vikings and he said it didn’t take any convincing on Favre’s part.
“I just let him know along with our offensive staff what I thought we needed to do to win. Brett wants to win as much as anyone in that room, and all our players want to win,” Frazier said. “He’s been very supportive of some of the changes that we’ve made and some of the changes we’ve talked about making going forward. Everybody wants to win, and so he’s been all in.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.