Vikings looking for offensive rhythm
EDEN PRAIRIE (AP) -- For the better part of the last four years, the Minnesota Vikings' offense has lacked rhythm -- let alone production.
Four games ago, Gus Frerotte helped them find it.
This week, the Vikings are out to replicate the success they had moving the ball last month at Chicago. Just without all the turnovers -- and the seven-point loss.
"We had a lot of good drives. We had a lot of good situations. I think we kind of knew what they were doing, and we were really on top of our game," said Frerotte, reflecting on the 48-41 loss to the Bears in which he threw four interceptions. "Now, we were off on some passes, but we were able to move the ball successfully on a lot of drives that game."
They get another chance on Sunday night.
The perennially powerful Bears defense has had a substandard season, save for last week's pummeling of the Rams in St. Louis when they allowed only 14 yards rushing and three points, and collected five sacks and four interceptions. Starting cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher have returned from injuries that kept them out of the October meeting with Minnesota.
But the Vikings were rolling that afternoon, and for once it wasn't all Adrian Peterson's doing. Were it not for two egregious, fluke errors on special teams, they would have emerged with one of their most impressive victories of the season. Frerotte threw for a season-high 298 yards plus two touchdowns and led scoring drives of 67, 70, 68, 64 and 75 yards.
In this fight for first place in the NFC North on Sunday night, the Vikings will probably need more of that to beat the Bears.
"Obviously we'd love to throw for 300 yards against them, but who knows how it's going to go?" Frerotte said. "We'd also love to run for about 200, but you don't know how the game is going to go. We'll have to wait and see how it evolves and how the game goes. The last game we were behind and it seemed like we never caught up, so we kept having to throw it and throw it and throw it. We had a lot of good opportunities, but we also made some mistakes. We'll see how this game evolves, and hopefully it goes according to plan."
Though Frerotte is 6-3 as the starter this season and the Vikings have won three of four games since the trip to Chicago, the passing attack has regressed to the familiar unimposing form that has hampered most of Brad Childress's time as coach.
Frerotte's yardage totals over the past month are borderline pathetic: 182, 151, 138, 120.
"I look at the numbers, certainly," Childress said. "There are always reasons for numbers, whether it's how you're calling the game, your point advantage, or the ratio of what you're trying to get done in the run game. We need to be more effective in the pass game, and obviously that will help the running game. One can't help but help the other. It's not necessarily just a Gus Frerotte-driven thing."
Childress, though, put the pressure on Frerotte to, well, do a better job of avoiding pressure. For all the upgrade Frerotte has given the Vikings over Tarvaris Jackson in the areas of confidence, experience and poise, he has erased one dimension of the offense that Jackson provided: Getting a first down with his feet.
Never the most mobile quarterback to begin with, the 37-year-old Frerotte has been vulnerable to a heavy rush and absorbed 28 sacks in nine games. After last week's 30-12 win at Jacksonville, Childress criticized Frerotte for holding onto the ball too long.
Frerotte took several hard hits against the Jaguars and had to come out for a play for the third time this season. Last Sunday, he hurt his non-throwing shoulder.
"I appreciate his aggressiveness," Childress said. "I have always said that. I said that to him from the minute he came in. But just always with merit."
Bernard Berrian has been well covered in recent weeks, and the Vikings are eager to reincorporate those deep passes to their well-paid wide receiver. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and backup running back Chester Taylor promise to be important parts of the strategy, too, if they're able to get going.
That starts, of course, with Frerotte.
"He's playing good," Shiancoe said. "We just need to let him loose. In football, people make mistakes. But that's just what it is, man. It's checkers, it's not chess. Let us loose, and we'll do what we can do."