Sunday, September 14, 2014

Peterson's Absence Will Have Cascade Effect for Vikings

For years, the Minnesota Vikings have pondered their future after Adrian Peterson.  Today, and perhaps for a very long time, the Vikings will have the opportunity to assess that future.  With the Vikings removing an otherwise available Peterson from today's lineup and signing running back Joe Baynard from the practice squad, the team is signaling that it expects to be without Peterson not only today, but also, and at least, into the near future.

Without Peterson in the line-up, the Vikings' offense will have a much more ordinary feel.  On first blush, that's a bit terrifying for a team that has been entirely about Peterson for at least the past four seasons.  After the initial shock, however, the team might benefit from being forced to see what it can do without its nookie blanket.

Under Leslie Frazier, the Vikings turned to Peterson whenever the score was tight, the team needed a quick score, the team needed to milk the clock, or the pass was not working.  Under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the expectation was that the Vikings would divert some of the workload to the quarterback and experiment with the new NFL sensation--the forward pass.

The Vikings did pass some against St. Louis in week one, but most of the pass attempts were short and the team's best plays continued to be running plays.  Although Peterson finished the day with just seventy-five yards rushing, he continued to compel the opposing defense to load up the box.

Not needing to stop Peterson, the New England Patriots and others are likely to step back off of the line and take no chances with Cordarrelle Patterson cutting across the middle.  That should open up the running game, but for the less threatening combo of Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon, and, possibly, Baynard.

Though the entire affair is disheartening on many levels, Peterson's absence should have the beneficial effect of compelling the Vikings to focus on all facets of the offense equally, rather than regarding the passing attack as "what we do when Adrian is unable to control the game."  In truth, the Vikings have essentially been in this predicament for the past two years.  They just have not yet acknowledged the fact.  Today ought to exemplify the beginning of that recognition process.  If so, we ought to see more downfield plays, expanded use of Patterson out of the backfield, more of Rudolph over the middle, and probably fewer check-downs than in any Vikings' game over the past four years.

Despite Peterson's absence, the Vikings have sufficient offensive skill to overcome what appears to be a relatively modest New England team--at least by Patriot standards.  Questions will persist in the secondary, until the Vikings can demonstrate an ability to shut down a legitimate quarterback, but, already, things look more promising than they ever did under Frazier.  How well the Vikings adjust to Peterson's absence and Brady's presence will suggest what we can expect for the remainder of the season.

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