Tale of the Tape - 2004 Wild Card, Vikings @ Packers

Moss is wearing some horrible colors, but Tice has some wonderful ideas.

It's the heart of the off-season, so you know what that means: time to break out the tape. Don't panic, though - we have not started rooting for either of the two horrible teams mentioned in the title. There is one person involved in this game who is worth taking a look at, however: Mike Tice. After sneaking his way into the playoffs with an 8-8 season, he went into Green Bay and led the team to an upset playoff win. Brett Favre did what he does best - throw interceptions in playoff games - and Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss did what they do best - score touchdowns. I wanted to look at two specific plays the Vikings used in this game to get some sense of how Tice will take advantage of his new #1 receiver, Brandon Marshall. Flip below the fold for all the X-and-O details of Tice used his #1 receiver to break the Packers' defense wide open.

First, let's get it out of system: Brandon Marshall! A real #1 receiver on the Bears!?! Crazy, I know. With that rabbling out of our system, let's talk about what a real #1 receiver can actually do for a team. While Tice's notorious "Randy Ratio" went on to become a joke, at its core, it's a good formula for success: find ways to get your guy open, get the ball into his hands, and let him do the rest. That's exactly what Tice did on the first play I want to look at. The Vikings are just inside the red zone. The two receivers - Nate Burleson and Randy Moss, line up on the same side of a 2TE formation against what appears to be a blitz from the Packers. But, with eight in the box for the Packers, only one safety is deep - can Moss get a 1-on-1 match-up here? He motions across the formation to see what kind of coverage he draws. Only CB Al Harris follows. Here's a diagram showing the alignment and the pre-snap motion.

1stand10linedup_medium

Moss sets, and the ball gets snapped immediately. Culpepper take a quick drop, looks to his right to see an open Randy Moss waving at him, and throws nice ball right into Moss' hands for the touchdown. Free safety Darren Sharper should have come over to help cover, but Tice kept him distracted just long enough by releasing the TE into the flat and sending Burleson on a slant. With receiving-threat RB Mo Williams also ready to run a route down the left seam, Sharper couldn't simply swing over to double-cover Moss: do that, and somebody on the other side will get open. It's a simple enough play, but it does a great job of forcing the defense to reveal its coverage. Plus, no matter what free safety decides to do here, he'll have to leave somebody in single coverage.

Tice knows that the Packers aren't going to make the same mistake twice: they're going to keep Moss in double-coverage from now on. So later on in the game, he runs a nice variation on the "I dare you to cover Moss one-on-one" theme. The Vikings have a 2nd and 1 just outside the Packers' 20. They again line up in a 2 TE formation, this time with a WR to each side. The Packers are once again showing blitz - and they've already gotten through once using a similar look - but the play does a good job of accounting for the pressure.

2ndand2aslinedup_medium

Here's what happens. Each TE chips the outside rusher (insert Mike Martz joke here) to slow down the blitz if it comes, then works his way into each flat. Randy Moss sprints directly towards the front post of the end zone, taking Sharper with him. Meanwhile, the RB (Ontario Smith, if you were curious) executes a run fake to the right, and then heads on over to the left side of the formation to make sure nobody has gotten through the protection. Culpepper sees that Burleson has gotten a step on CB Rod Carroll, hits him in stride, and Burleson strolls in the end zone for an easy six. It's like Bob Dylan said: you can double-cover some of the people all the time, but you can't double-cover all the people all of the time.

That's the thing about a #1 WR. You put them in single-coverage, they make the play; you put them in double-coverage, and somebody else is going to be open. Tice knows this as well as anybody. Thankfully, he can also put that knowledge to work, even when the line is playing poorly. Simply put, the Minnesota line looked pretty weak in this game. Culpepper's feet were able to get him out of a couple of sacks, but the Packers were able to harass poor Daunte fairly easily even when they rushed four . Tice, however, ran a majority of his offense out of a 2 TE formation, and he had the ends either chip before running their route or simply stay home and block. It wasn't always a pretty offense, but it was plenty effective. Let's just hope that Tice can bring some of that magic to an NFC North team that I'll actually want to watch.

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