EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — On the Vikings first run play of Sunday's win in Washington, running back Latavius Murray burst through a hole up the middle and cut to his left for a 14-yard gain.
The play set the tone that Minnesota wanted to be physical up front, a mindset the Vikings established as they eclipsed 100-plus rushing yards for the sixth time this season.
And while ample blocking and strong running from Murray helped get the early gain, the Vikings and Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur also threw a wrinkle at Washington in how Minnesota lined up.
Minnesota's front, from left to right, consisted of David Morgan, Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, Joe Berger and Rashod Hill.
Morgan was essentially the left tackle while the man who usually plays that spot, Riley Reiff, was lined up to the right of Hill as a tight end.
"Whenever you're able to keep people on their toes, it's hard for defenses to get a read on what you're doing," Morgan said. "We've done a great job of incorporating a lot of different personnel and people in different spots and running different plays in different formations.
"We run a lot of the same stuff," Morgan said. "But we put a different twist on it and do a great job on mixing it up with how we do it."
Added Reiff: "It just makes them think a little bit. Something that we've not run a lot, but if we can gain some yards, we're going to take advantage any way we can."
The Vikings lined up in the unbalanced formation for three run plays against Washington.
Murray gained 14 yards early ,and Jerick McKinnon picked up 10 yards in the second quarter to move the Vikings to Washington's 5-yard line. Shurmur went back to the formation the next play, but Murray was kept at-bay with a 2-yard gain when tight end Kyle Rudolph lined up to the left of Easton.
The formation gained 26 rushing yards on three plays as Washington slowly began to adjust, something Minnesota's coaching stuff suspected would happen.
"The hard thing is that a lot of teams don't practice against unbalanced lines, they don't see it, so the adjustment they have to make," said Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano. "I think there's a chess game, and part of the chess game is that defensively, they think that they're one step ahead of the offense.
"And then you come out, and you completely go unbalanced and put another guy over there that's a big guy, and you've got a guy like Rudy who's on the backside and can cause problems back there, it gives us one more chess piece to move around. And I think it causes them to have to adjust to our adjustment," Sparano added. "In that game [at Washington], it took them a while to figure that out. And while they were figuring it out, we made use of it, and good use of it, and it ended up working out well."
Those involved said the Vikings use the formation when they feel it would be successful based on film study and tendencies of an opponent.
Shurmur said the Vikings had a hunch it would work against Washington.
"It's just a strategy that we used against the Redskins," Shurmur said. "We went unbalanced on a handful of runs, and we were able to pop some. Teams you play respond to it differently, and we felt like that was good against Washington."
It remains to be seen when and where the Vikings will employ the unbalanced formation.
But if they do, you can bet it'll be when the defense least expects it.
"We worked on it all week, and it was good in the game," Hill said. "We have some plays, but Coach always says, 'It's not the plays, it's the players.' Whatever play he tells us, we have to execute.
"It can be run or pass," Hill added. "We take pride in running the ball. We get some yards, and the running backs are having fun."
Added Sparano: "It may not come out again for a couple games, or it may come out a bunch. It depends on what you see on film and how maybe you've seen them line up to it, or if you haven't seen it. If you haven't seen it, then they haven't seen it."