The Vikings are not who we thought they were. Heck, at this point in an out-of-whack season, the Vikings are not who they thought they were, or wanted to be.
A run-oriented throwback team built on Adrian Peterson’s “famine, famine, feast” mentality has been more absorbed finding its quarterback of the future than feeding its greatest running back of all time. Last year’s victories and commitment to the run have disintegrated into a 1-5 pile of rubble lowlighted by last week’s misguided “famine, famine, fling it 53 times” approach in a 23-7 loss to the winless Giants on “Monday Night Football.”
“It’s something we’ve talked about,” said coach Leslie Frazier, whose team faces the first-place Packers (4-2) in an NFC North game on Sunday night at Mall of America Field. “We’re going to have some zero runs, some 1-yard runs. But we can’t get away from it. We know in order for us to be good at running the football, we got to stick with it. So we realize that we need to be more patient with our run game. For sure.”
But here’s the conundrum: Something also is desperately wrong with the running game, which has dropped into the bottom half of the league rankings (No. 19). Yes, Peterson’s 511 rushing yards are 12 more than he had through six games a year ago. But Peterson isn’t judged by what he did through six games in 2012, but rather by what he did in the final 10 games once his surgically rebuilt left knee returned to full strength and beyond. In those final 10 games, Peterson ran for 1,598 yards and 10 touchdowns on 235 carries (6.8).
Unlike many superstars, Peterson never could be described as a malcontent. But his frustration with the coaching staff’s sudden lack of patience with the running game is palpable.
“Any time you have two games with 13 carries or less, you definitely want more touches to get in the flow of things,” said Peterson, who had 23 carries for 90 yards the past two weeks against the Panthers and Giants. Asked why he thinks the coaching staff hasn’t had the same patience this year, Peterson said: “I don’t know. That’s a good question. I have no idea. I can’t answer that.”
‘Out of whack’
Clearly, Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who calls the plays, are struggling to stay on the same page philosophically. Otherwise, Monday night’s boxscore wouldn’t say 13 carries for Peterson and 53 passes for Josh Freeman, who was making his Vikings debut after just four practices with the team. Four.
Musgrave admitted the play-calling “got out of whack” but pointed out that Freeman threw 28 times with the Vikings down 23-7 in the final 11 minutes.
“Just trying to move the ball one way or the other, run or pass, and as we know, we weren’t having a lot of success up to that point with either one,” Musgrave said. “We’re not hitting on all cylinders in the running game like we’re accustomed to, and we’re working to get that fixed.”
Frazier, on the other hand, dismissed the notion that the score of the game was the primary reason for the play-calling imbalance.
“It was a pretty close ballgame for quite a while,” he said.
When the Vikings trailed by three at the half, Freeman had twice as many passes (16) as Peterson had runs. The Vikings got the second-half kickoff, passed three more times and punted.
The Giants fumbled the punt away, giving the Vikings the ball at New York 31-yard line. Peterson ran for 8 yards on first down, but another pass on second down was intercepted.
The next series: One run, two passes, punt. The series after that: Three pass attempts, two runs, a sack on third down. Trailing 17-7 heading into the fourth quarter, Musgrave had called 26 passes and handed the ball to Peterson 12 times.
“We probably got a little bit too sideways in that game,” Frazier said. “That’s not the ratio we wanted to have.”
Edge at QB
Next up is a Packers team that Peterson has averaged 128.4 yards against in 12 meetings. Last year, Green Bay helped him win league MVP by being trampled 55 times for 409 yards (7.4) and two touchdowns in two regular-season meetings. When Peterson last saw the Packers, he was being dragged down 9 yards short of Eric Dickerson’s NFL single-season rushing record en route to setting up the last-second field goal that clinched a playoff berth in the regular-season finale at Mall of America Field.