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Updated: August 21st, 2011 3:28am
Pelissero: Short passing game providing protection for Vikings' o-line

Pelissero: Short passing game providing protection for Vikings' o-line

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

SEATTLE -- The sight must have made stomachs sink on the Minnesota Vikings' sideline.

Seattle Seahawks veteran Raheem Brock, all 274 pounds of him, charging toward Donovan McNabb as left tackle Charlie Johnson blocked air nearby.

"Yeah, I messed up," Johnson said after the Vikings' 20-7 exhibition win over the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday night.

"I own up to it. I went the wrong way. It was my fault. It wasn't anything confusing or anything. I just messed up."

Brock planted McNabb for a sack and an 8-yard loss. The Vikings punted and didn't get the ball again on offense until the second quarter.

"You don't want guys running free on your quarterback in our league," coach Leslie Frazier said. "You'll have a short stay in this league."

McNabb got up this time. He played pretty well, too, completing 5 of 7 passes while leading the Vikings on a 13-play, 81-yard drive to a field goal before departing for the night.

"We had opportunities," McNabb said. "We just didn't capitalize like we wanted."

A 34-year-old quarterback only can take so many licks, though, especially when he's played all 16 games just once in the past seven years.

For all of the questions surrounding the Vikings' offense entering camp, the one that lingers most prominently at the preseason's midpoint remains along the line.

Look no further than coordinator Bill Musgrave's heavy reliance on the short passing game for evidence he knows which unit needs protecting.

"What we did (Saturday) -- that's what was there, so we took advantage of it, and it'll be that way throughout the season," Frazier said. "We have the ability to throw the football down the field, we think, with the kids that we do have, and we think we have the best slot receiver in the National Football League if we get the ball in his hands as well."

Percy Harvin was scratched on Saturday. So, McNabb directed six of his eight passes to running backs or tight ends and took only one shot downfield -- a back shoulder-type throw Michael Jenkins dived to catch for a 21-yard gain.

A quick out to Adrian Peterson for 2. A slant to Kyle Rudolph for 17. A checkdown Jimmy Kleinsasser steamrolled for 23. That's how the Vikings jumpstarted that 81-yard drive from their own 1, before right tackle Phil Loadholt's false start set them back, another checkdown to Peterson was tipped and another slant to Rudolph sailed wide.

"That was big for us, but we have to capitalize," McNabb said. "We had a penalty. We had a batted ball. We just weren't able to convert."

It was more of the same with second-string quarterback Christian Ponder, who was 6-for-12 passing and kept running naked bootlegs because Seattle wasn't containing them.

The Vikings didn't have a gain longer than 23 yards -- or an offensive touchdown -- until Tristan Davis cut back for a 35-yard score with about 2 minutes to go, putting away the victory against Seattle's third string.

"We obviously still have a lot of things to work on, but it's getting there," Ponder said. "I think we're realizing that we have to get the ball out quicker -- us, as quarterbacks, have to be better and get through our reads faster, and that's what we've been working on."

Bernard Berrian didn't have a ball thrown in his direction. That's no surprise, since Musgrave's split end runs mostly intermediate-to-deep routes -- areas of the field the Vikings can't attack if they're skittish about protection.

They have four right guards, which probably means they don't have any. They have a center who can be exposed with power, a right tackle who can be exposed with movement and a left tackle who belongs at guard, whether he's going the right way or not.

"I think we did improve," Johnson said. "We were able to get in a better rhythm. We had more pep coming out of the huddle, getting back into the huddle, breaking the huddle and all that. We were able to just line up and play football."

The Vikings will spend the next week simulating regular-season preparation, including game planning for their home preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys. That'll provide a more accurate and extensive glimpse of how Musgrave expects things to run.

Early indications, however, are the Vikings don't want to take any chances -- with turnovers or their veteran quarterback's health. Their best protection is the threat Harvin, Peterson and others pose if McNabb doesn't waste much time getting the ball into their hands.

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