Notebook: Leslie Frazier knows he must keep offense balanced
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - The deep pass was nearly non-existent for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in their 24-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers in the regular-season opener.
This was bad news for Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 98 yards on 16 carries (6.1 average). The Chargers stacked the box against Peterson and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will do the same on Sunday at the Metrodome unless the Vikings prove they can go vertical.
"We were running the football so well," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Monday. "And we believed that we were going to get more opportunities by converting some third downs, which would allow you to keep some drives going. And when we missed those opportunities, before you know it, you're in a situation where you have to throw the football down the field. You don't want to be in that situation. You want to be able to remain balanced."
But that goes both ways, meaning the Vikings need McNabb and the passing game to provide far more than it did Sunday.
The veteran completed 7 of 15 passes for only 39 yards with an interception and a touchdown. His longest completion was a 12-yarder to Michael Jenkins in the first half.
"There are some things that (McNabb will) definitely want to improve on," Frazier said. "But if you look at the entire team, there are some things that we need to improve on as a team, which in turn will help him and help our football team. But he did some good things in that ballgame. Came out with good enthusiasm and did a good job of leading us early on to a score."
Frazier said he did not think McNabb checked out of any calls by offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave that would have been deep shots, but that McNabb might have elected to use underneath passes once he saw what the Chargers defense was giving him.
The fact the Chargers were able to get pressure on McNabb - left tackle Charlie Johnson had a rocky day - meant the quarterback had to quickly get rid of the ball at times. Frazier said that it won't be necessary to make a lot of adjustments in pass-protection schemes but added, "we needed to do some things a little bit better."
Asked about the balance of getting Peterson touches and that becoming too predictable, Frazier said:
"That's something you have to guard against. They were stacking the line of scrimmage and when that happens you've got to take advantage down the field and that's something that we're going to take a look at as we're self scouting ourselves from this first ballgame. He's such a threat. He's such a focal point of our offense.
"We have to be aware (of) how people are going to try to defend us. This game will hopefully be one of those that we'll look back at and say, 'That game helped us.' I hope that will be the case."
Give him the ball
Not surprisingly, Peterson would have liked to have carried the ball more than 16 times. He had a total of 18 touches, including two receptions. Last season, he averaged 18.9 rushing attempts per game.
"Sixteen, what do you think?" he said when asked if that amount of carries was enough. "But you know, that's just how the game went. The second half we just weren't able to get a drive going. We have to kind of take some attempts to pass the ball a little more. We didn't have that many opportunities the second half.
"I want to say we had like, what, three, four series and they weren't long series. It's kind of hard to get more carries than that, especially when you're looking at each rep like, you know, it's 'Do or die, we need to make this happen now.'"
The Vikings ran only 17 plays in the second half and 43 for the game.
In McNabb's hands
McNabb threw an interception on his first play from scrimmage as a Viking when he changed a run to a pass at the line of scrimmage on first down from his own 12-yard line.
Linebacker Shaun Phillips timed his leap perfectly on a short pass intended for Percy Harvin and caught his own deflection to set up San Diego's first touchdown three plays later.
"It was a look that we were looking for and (McNabb) saw something," Frazier said of why the play was changed. "It's designed for him to make that decision."
Frazier added that Johnson ideally would have thrown a cut block and gotten Phillips' hands down. "Shaun Phillips is a great player," Frazier said. "He made a great play."
Focus on fundamentals
The Vikings issues Sunday weren't just on the offensive side of the ball. The defense also struggled with tackling and three defensive penalties on the Chargers final drive enabled San Diego to run out the clock.
Missed tackles were an issue last year for the Vikings and something Frazier and coordinator Fred Pagac have worked to cleanup.
"We tackled well early, and the missed tackles started showing up a little bit late," Frazier said. "It's something that we have to be good at. It's hard to play defense in the NFL if you don't tackle well, particularly the way we're structured on defense. So it's something that we have to improve in order to have the type of team we want to have."
Some of Sunday's missed tackles came from an unlikely source. Cornerback Antoine Winfield, who is among the Vikings' best tacklers, said he missed three or four alone.
Meanwhile, defensive tackles Letroy Guion and Fred Evans likely heard plenty from Frazier about the penalties they took. Guion was called for being offside twice in San Diego's final series and Evans was called for encroachment just after the 2-minute warning.
"Penalties absolutely killed us, especially in the four-minute drill," defensive end Jared Allen said. "You can't have four penalties in four minutes. We have a chance to get the ball back to our offense and possibly win it. We have to play smarter there. We had the effort, but we just have to clean things up."
Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe is expected to play a key role in the Vikings offense but Sunday he was the target of only one McNabb pass and did not have a reception.
Shiancoe had no explanation for what happened.
"When I'm in my route, I don't know what's happening behind me," he said. "I know (McNabb) was getting pressured a couple of times. We watched a little bit of film. That was the case they were getting pressured a little bit. But we're going to get back to work."
As for the hamstring injury that bothered him throughout training camp, Shiancoe said he felt great.
The Vikings went 3-for-6 on third down in the opening half, but were only 1-for-5 in the second half.
That was especially disturbing to Frazier, who said San Diego's defense didn't change much in the final 30 minutes and put the blame on the Vikings' lack of execution.
Frazier did credit the Chargers with "clamping down" on certain things the Vikings had wanted to do, but he quickly added that's when the team's top players must come through.
"What we have to be able to do when that happens is our playmakers end up having to make some plays even though you may be covered," he said. "It may mean coming back to the football or another yard. It may mean the quarterback getting the ball out a little bit sooner.
"It may mean an offensive lineman being able to sustain his block a little bit longer. But they did a good job with some of the things that they were doing the second half. And we have to do a little bit better job of executing in certain situations."
Don't call it the Wildcat
The Vikings unveiled their "Blazer Package" on Sunday to poor reviews.
The offensive look, which features former Alabama-Birmingham Blazer Joe Webb at quarterback, resulted in a loss of 2 yards by Webb and a gain of 2 by Percy Harvin on back-to-back plays in the third quarter.
Frazier said he isn't about to give up on the package and cautioned that it's not the typical Wildcat because Webb is a legitimate quarterback.
"Most people that put a guy back there, (he) can't throw the football as well as Joe can, so it's a little bit different," Frazier said. "We have a legitimate quarterback running the offense when we do it. There's room to expound on what we did yesterday and we're not ready to give up on it. They did a good job defending it but we think it has merit."
Frazier on if his job looks more difficult now that the Vikings' foes in the NFC North, Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit, all opened with victories: "I don't think so. It's one game, we have a lot more games to play. The biggest thing about this game yesterday is that it means we can't go 16-0. I don't think it declares to anybody, anything other than the fact that we can't go 16-0."