Twenty-nine, five, fourteen, twenty-six, two, and three.
These are the numbers that sum up the Vikings' 26-7 Sunday night loss to the previously 5-8 Carolina Panthers and suggest more trouble on the horizon for the team from Minnesota.
Twenty-nine is the number representing the NFL running backs that outgained Minnesota's Adrian Peterson on Sunday. Among those backs, for those seeking to correlate Peterson's abysmal production with the Vikings admittedly collegiate-level offensive line, were Jerome Harrison of the Cleveland Browns (286), Jamaal Charles of Kansas City (154), Maurice Morris of the Detroit Lions (126), Michael Bush of the Oakland Raiders (133), and Jonathan Stewart of the Carolina Panthers (109).'
Clearly, one of Sunday's themes was running backs playing for weak teams, behind weak to awful offensive lines, posting big numbers. Some, as in the case of Morris, Bush, and Stewart, accomplished considerable success against some of the league's best defensive lines. Others, such as Harrison and Charles, approached team and/or league records in rushing yardage against teams inviting the rush.
Against one of the league's least resistant run defenses, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson came in 30th in rushing on Sunday with a paltry 35 yards. That was fewer yards not only than 29 other running backs that played on Sunday had but also fewer yards than five backup running backs had on Sunday and marked the second time in three weeks that Peterson has been a virtual non-factor out of the backfield.
To what do the Vikings owe Peterson's transformation from one of the league's greatest running threats to that of a mere after-thought? Certainly, it is tempting to point the finger at an offensive line that gets worse as each week passes. Whether Bryant McKinnie is being shoved back ten yards or Phil Loadholt is being exploited to such a degree that the Vikings must consistently keep a tight end and wide receiver in to block on running plays, there is ample blame to assign this suddenly putrid unit.
But, as suggested above, other purported lesser backs made far greater hay out of much less inviting circumstances on Sunday, running behind equally challenged offensive linemen.
A far more compelling take is that the Vikings lack a sufficient enough will to get a handle on what they have at their disposal on offense. How else does one explain a seven point performance against a 5-8 team that ranks 26th in the league against the run, when the Vikings have the best running back tandem in the NFL? How else to explain 27 passing plays and 14 running plays in a game that was not decided until late in the fourth quarter?
It might just be coincidence or it might be the football Gods' way of making a statement, but the Vikings' troubles all began roughly three weeks ago when head coach Brad Childress, in the midst of a nice run against some of the lousiest competition any team he will ever coach will ever face, inked a nice, fat contract extension despite never really proving himself. Since that time, the Vikings have lost two of three, with the two losses virtually effortless performances.
At approximately the same time that Childress signed his extension, the head coach announced that it was "time to start working Bernard [Berrian] into the mix." No sooner did that edict come down than did Favre begin his attempt to follow orders, forcing bad pass after bad pass to the undeserving receiver. Those attempts far too often resulted in a bad play for the Vikings, leaving the team either with an offensive pass interference, an interception, or a disappointing effort by the receiver leading to second or third and long. And, not at all coincidentally, they meant fewer passes to Sidney Rice, Visanthe Shiancoe, Peterson, and Percy Harvin, and fewer running plays for Peterson.
With the Arizona game still fresh in the rear-view mirror, Sunday's debacle at Carolina cannot be viewed with the same optimistic "one off" attitude with which many in Vikingland viewed the game against the Cardinals. Rather, it should be viewed in light of the season-long difficulties establishing Peterson's running game, the near season-long struggles of the offensive line, and the reality that Berrian is simply a distraction rather than a compliment to the smooth functioning of the Vikings' offense.
There are numerous solutions to the Vikings' current predicament, many of which have been suggested on this site throughout the season. Those solutions include doing a better job of disguising run and pass plays by using Chester Taylor and Peterson in the same backfield, using Peterson more on screens, using Percy Harvin out of the backfield, and getting Peterson more than 12-16 carries a game. Those suggestions now include scouring the waiver wire for an offensive tackle that knows how to play and is willing to put up an effort at the NFL level.
Whatever the suggestions here or elsewhere, however, it is up to the head coach to make adjustments. And Childress' lack of attention to the offensive line and the running game this season, and his lack of awareness that the offense has lost its fluidity with the inane attempt to impose Berrian into the mix, has made a team that just three weeks ago seemed an odds-on favorite to reach the Super Bowl, one that now could very well find itself on the same losing end of a first-round playoff game that it found itself on last season.
Only this season, nobody will be required to prove anything the following year--a particularly ominous cloud given the potential of an uncapped 2010 season.
Up Next: Getting Outside the Box.