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Dave Campbell / Associated Press, Published October 06 2012

Vikings lead on ground game despite pass-happy NFL surroundings

MINNEAPOLIS – The pass-happy NFL is a trend the Minnesota Vikings have mostly ignored. Their style is Adrian Peterson, and they’re sticking with him.

“Every team is different. Some guys are going to win throwing the ball, but right now running the ball is working well for us so we’re going to stick with it until things change,” quarterback Christian Ponder said. “We have the best running back in the NFL, so we’re just going to keep giving him the rock.”

Minnesota’s insistence on molding offensive strategy around the running game while teams all over the league have posted record passing numbers in recent years has appeared at times outdated and desperate. The Vikings, though, have evidence this plan can still be effective. They’re 3-1, one of the early surprises of the season in part because of their commitment to balance when they have the ball.

The Tennessee Titans, who visit the Vikings today, believe in the same approach but haven’t had much of a chance to make it work yet this year at 1-3.

There are several reasons the Vikings are a run-first team, the main one being Peterson.

Close to his pre-knee-injury form, Peterson is 10th in the league with 332 yards rushing. Most importantly, his tough running inside the tackles has loosened up the defense for Ponder to connect with his receivers when and where he needs to. He’s the only starter left in the NFL who hasn’t thrown an interception.

Lackluster passing is another factor in the direction the Vikings have tilted. Until Ponder’s emergence this month, the Vikings haven’t had the players with which to build a dangerous throwing game. Even during Brett Favre’s age-defying 2009 season, Peterson finished fourth in the league with 314 carries.

“You’ve seen a lot of teams abandon the running game and just go straight passing,” Ponder said. “That’s not what we’re doing. Good thing is when you’re getting two, three, four yards, you’re always staying ahead of the sticks and that’s important for us.”

Keeping the ball on the ground becomes foolish, of course, when a team falls behind in the fourth quarter. The Vikings have been able to keep their tactic intact with a defense that’s tied for seventh in the NFL in fewest average points allowed and special teams that produced two touchdowns last week at Detroit.

The Titans, however, have given up a league-high 151 points (almost 38 per game) and had to mostly abandon their use of running back Chris Johnson.

“We’re asking our quarterback to have to do a lot more things because of the situation of the game,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “Minnesota’s done a great job of not allowing that to happen, because the defense has played well and because they’ve converted on third downs.”