Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was asked a barrage of Adrian Peterson-related questions on Tuesday in anticipation of Monday’s opener between the Vikings (Peterson’s old team, in case you were asleep the last decade) and Saints (his new team, in case you’ve been busy this summer) at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Zimmer, predictably, did his best to shut it down.
“This game isn't about Adrian Peterson,” Zimmer said in response to one question. “It's about the Vikings and the Saints. They've got a lot of great offensive weapons and he's a great player, but this game isn't about Adrian Peterson.”
In a pretty harmless seeming follow-up asking Zimmer what he liked about coaching Peterson, the Vikings coach simply replied, “I'm just going to talk about my players.”
That’s what coaches (correctly) do. They try to strip away story lines and return the focus to the big picture of an entire game.
But guess what? There are still five days until the game, and I don’t have to try to win or lose it. So let’s dive into a very Peterson-focused question: Who will have more rushing yards in Monday’s game — Peterson for the Saints or Dalvin Cook, the rookie drafted ostensibly to replace Peterson, for the Vikings?
Per some Sports Betting Dime prop bets released earlier this week, the over-under on rushing yards for Peterson against the Vikings is 54.5. They didn’t have a specific yardage total for Cook, but they had him at 7 to 2 odds to break 100 yards.
Both figure to be sharing the ball with other backs — Mark Ingram topped 1,000 yards on 5.1 yards per carry for the Saints last season, while Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon should get chances for the Vikings.
The Saints last season ranked 16th in rushing yards per game (108.9) while the Vikings were dead last at a paltry 75.3 yards per game. On defense, both teams were middle of the pack against the run, giving up 4.1 yards (Saints) and 4.2 yards (Vikings) per carry, respectively.
Upgrading both their run defense and run offense was an offseason priority for the Vikings, but that’s easier said than done.
When it comes to making an impression, Peterson will no doubt be motivated. “Going back to Minnesota, playing the Vikings? Yeah, I want to stick it to them,” he told the Star Tribune’s Mark Craig recently. That said, Cook is a confident player making his NFL debut, and he will certainly be eager to prove himself — particularly when the legendary back he’s replacing is on the other sideline.
In the end, though, I expect motivation to take a back seat to need. I’ll be surprised if Peterson reaches 54.5 yards rushing (I’d take the under), and I’d be surprised if Cook fails to reach that number (though 100 seems far less likely). I’ll take Cook over Peterson — and I’ll leave Vikings vs. Saints up to Zimmer.