Originally created 01/11/00

Healthy Smith makes Vikings even more dangerous



EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- What's this? A run-first, pass-second philosophy in Minnesota?

That's right, the Vikings are more balanced than they've ever been in Dennis Green's eight seasons as coach thanks to running back Robert Smith, who has fully recovered from a hernia operation that cost him three games.

Smith ran the Dallas Cowboys ragged Sunday, gaining a team playoff record 140 yards on 28 carries in the Vikings' 27-10 wild-card victory.

Four times in the last five weeks, the Vikings, who have 26 TD receptions between Randy Moss and Cris Carter, have run more than they've passed.

During that span, Smith has averaged 111 yards on 21 rushes for a 5.2-yard average.

"I don't remember any stretch in my career where I've gotten the ball 20, 25 times so many games in a row," Smith said Monday.

The Vikings, who travel to St. Louis on Sunday for a divisional playoff game against the top-seeded Rams, have ditched many of their multiple receiver sets for a standard two-receiver formation with an extra fullback or tight end.

"Our style of play has moved more toward two tight ends and more toward the run formation over the last four games," Green said. "We think that's really our biggest weapon."

The Vikings actually are inviting defenses to concentrate on Moss and Carter nowadays.

"In the playoffs you want to have a balanced attack," quarterback Jeff George said. "If you can run the ball, you're always going to have a chance to win."

Carter said the Vikings always wanted to be this balanced but never were.

"I think in our minds we thought that's what we wanted to do, but I don't think that necessarily occurred," he said. "It's tough when you have the wideouts that we do."

Smith, a seventh-year running back from Ohio State, thought he'd never see the day where he was the primary option in Minnesota's high-powered attack.

"When you have receivers like this, it's hard not to try to get them the ball," Smith said. "But when guys focus as much on it as they have in the last year and a half, they have to lighten up a little bit (against the run). They have to back off a bit and that opens up some running lanes."

Smith, who had his third straight 1,000-yard season, was encumbered early in the season by a double hernia that robbed him of his burst and breakaway abilities while sapping his strength and threatening his signature cutback capabilities.

It wasn't diagnosed until mid-October, when he visited Tampa Bay Buccaneers team physician Joseph Diaco, who operated on him.

Smith returned to action a month later, but didn't return to form until the last month, when he reeled off a 70-yard TD run against the New York Giants.

Smith has averaged 4.9 yards per carry since the operation, almost a full yard more than he did before. He credited new coordinator Ray Sherman, who has replaced Brian Billick -- architect of the highest-scoring offense in NFL history -- and shown more patience with the running game.

"Ray's kind of made it his quest, I guess, to have a balanced offense and to stay patient with the run," Smith said. "A lot of times when Brian would get frustrated with the run game and get away from it. Ray for the most part hasn't done that."

Now, with a strong, clock-eating running game, the Vikings (11-6) find themselves in a bit of a role reversal against the high-powered Rams (13-3) and their scoring machine.

"Kurt Warner has been throwing the hell out of the ball this year," Smith said. "But yeah, you definitely want to control the ball as much as you can, keep it away from an offense like that."