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Updated: August 28th, 2011 1:27am
Pelissero: Exploiting one-on-ones downfield crucial to balancing 'O'

Pelissero: Exploiting one-on-ones downfield crucial to balancing 'O'

by Tom Pelissero

MINNEAPOLIS -- The playmaking ability of Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin can cover up a lot of the Minnesota Vikings' flaws on offense, but they need space to do it.

That's why Bernard Berrian's 49-yard touchdown catch was worth more than an early 7-0 lead in Saturday's exhibition against the Dallas Cowboys.

Blow the top off a defense once, and people take note.

Do it again and again -- something the Vikings must prove they're capable of without help from one safety (Gerald Sensabaugh) biting on the out cut and the other (Abram Elam) misjudging the ball in the air -- and the game changes.

"We're counting on Bernard to make the type of plays he made on that first drive," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "If that does happen for us -- boy, we have a chance to be an explosive offense."

Peterson carried the ball on five of the Vikings' first six snaps. The other was a play-action out to tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser -- the type of conservative, down-low pass play the Vikings have executed again and again during this preseason.

So, it was no surprise when cornerback Orlando Scandrick followed Jeff Dugan into the flat in Cover-2, leaving Berrian one-on-one against Sensabaugh, who flipped his hips to the corner as Berrian sped to the post.

"I know everyone kind of thought we were going to kind of stay intermediate and kind of play it safe," McNabb said. "But we've been trying to open up the offense. It really depends on what the defense is dictating for us."

What the Vikings showed in Saturday's 23-17 loss, though, is they want to be the ones dictating.

Game planning for the first time, coordinator Bill Musgrave unleashed an array of bunched sets and pre-snap movement that had the Cowboys scrambling to identify threats and declare their doubles as McNabb mixed in no-huddle and directed four drives of 45 yards or more into scoring position.

"You find out what you're good at, and then you can mix it up by formation," rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "Anytime you can move it around to keep the defense off balance and run what you're good at and what your forte is makes the offense extremely successful."

Peterson carried 14 times for 81 yards (5.8 average), including eight for 40 on first down. Harvin caught four passes for 29, Michael Jenkins made a stellar catch for 26 and McNabb finished 12-of-18 passing for 164 yards and a 91.0 rating, the only blemish a tipped-ball interception that halted their third drive at the Dallas 30.

"It's no secret how we want to run our offense," Frazier said. "We want things centered around Adrian Peterson. We want people to have to get eight in the box to stop Adrian. We feel like with the weapons we have on the outside -- Bernard, Percy, (Visanthe) Shiancoe when he comes back (from a hamstring injury), even Kyle -- that we've got some ways to exploit some one-on-one coverage."

The more the Vikings can expose what the defense is doing before the snap, the better their chances for not only getting those one-on-ones, but taking advantage of them, too.

There's little question Berrian has lost a step at age 30. His skill set doesn't include physically contesting for balls down the field, although he gave it a try on another downfield pass that Scandrick broke up in the second quarter.

If there's one way to get something out of a vertical-speed receiver who took a sizeable pay cut after failing to catch a touchdown pass in the worst of his seven NFL seasons, this is it. And the Vikings might need it to work even more than Berrian does, contract year and all.

"Well, it will keep us balanced, that's for sure," Musgrave said. "We want to be able to get some chunks. The more chunks you get, the fewer third downs you have to convert."

In other words, the longer it takes an offense to score, the more that can go wrong.

The Vikings' starters got inside Dallas' 35-yard line five times in six tries -- each time in seven or eight plays -- but two botched field goals, the interception, a protection breakdown and a Harvin drop combined to hold them to 10 points.

"It's kind of the beginning stages for us," McNabb said. "I don't want to sit here and act like we're rolling and the number one offense or anything. We're just happy where we're at, but we have to keep progressing."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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