That’s the question heading into Week 3 after quarterback Matt Cassel struggled in Week 2 against the New England Patriots in Week 2 without Peterson. Now he’s faced with that same dilemma for the foreseeable future.
“Everything is not going to go perfect in this game. It’s a hostile place to play, but we’ve got to protect the ball,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “We protect the ball and don’t give the team we’re playing, this week it’s the Saints, a short field and don’t give them too many opportunities and hopefully we’ll be in the game.”
The Vikings didn’t do much of that without Peterson against the Patriots. Cassel threw four interceptions, the Vikings gave up punt returns of 28 and 34 yards to returner Julian Edelman and Blair Walsh had a field goal blocked. The home opener for the Vikings was a breakdown in most areas of the game.
Cassel, in his 10th NFL season, will have to shoulder much of the responsibility for getting the offense heading back in the right direction. After two weeks of play, the passing offense is ranked last in the NFL.
“We do have a young, impressionable team. I think that the main thing is trying to block out the noise on the outside because there is a lot of it going on right now,” Cassel said. “You can’t get too caught up in that. You have to stay focused on the task at hand, the job at hand and learn the playbook, learn the new game plan for this week and get ready for a good football team.
“I know one thing: The Saints aren’t going to feel sorry for us when we go down there on Sunday and it’s part of being a professional, part of doing this job is overcoming some adversity and we’ve faced some adversity, obviously, early this year.”
The Vikings are at the end of a brutal week. They are coming off a 30-7 loss to the Patriots, dealing with the indefinite loss of Peterson as he faces charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child in Texas, and having released receiver Jerome Simpson after his latest run-in with the law became public on Thursday.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings need to guard against trying to do too much without their star running back.
“We’re coaching to try to make the smart plays all the time and sometimes I think we all – the whole team last week, especially in the second half we tried to do more than we’re supposed to,” Zimmer said. “It showed up on tape. Guys were trying to do their own thing so we’ve worked real hard this week about getting back to basics and understanding there’s times when you make plays in the game but the game has to come to you. You can’t just go ahead and ‘I’m going to go make a play now and I’m going to go freelance or I’m going to do this or I’m going to do that.’ I’ve talked to the team very hard this week about that.”
After four interceptions, no one is likely to feel the pressure as much as Cassel. Turner took on some of the responsibility for that.
“I think we’re trying to do too much, a couple of the play calls and a couple of the decisions,” Turner said. “There are always plays you’d like to have back, but we were just trying too much, doing things we didn’t need to do. We’ve got to be smart in terms of our decision-making and how we go about attacking teams.”
Turner said he doesn’t want to put any more pressure on Cassel and that the defenses they have faced have something to do with the up-and-down performances between the first and second games. The Patriots now have the league’s fourth-ranked defense overall and against the pass. New Orleans, however, has the 30th-ranked defense overall and 32nd against the pass.
But if Cassel falters again, is it time to consider rookie Teddy Bridgewater?
“We evaluate all the different situations, but I think (Cassel) has played great all two-a-days,” Zimmer said, “and I’m not going to let one bad afternoon ruin it.”
GREENWAY THE MAIN INJURY CONCERN
After taking two days off with a broken left hand, Chad Greenway was back on the practice field Friday and hoping to play. He was limited in Friday’s practice and one of three Vikings listed as questionable.
Zimmer said he wasn’t sure if Greenway would be able to play.
“It felt good. Just obviously good to practice and we did some stuff,” Greenway said after Friday’s practice. “It’s good. Felt good.”
Greenway has played in 116 straight games for the Vikings since returning from a torn ACL in his rookie season, including four playoff games. That streak includes playing through a broken wrist last year.
“I’m experienced,” he said, referring to last year’s injury. “… It’s never going to be excuse, just go play football and make it work.
“I think it’s more about can you help the team win.”
Also questionable were LB Brandon Watts (knee) and WR Rodney Smith (hamstring).
OTHERS EXPECTED TO PLAY
Offensive tackle Phil Loadholt and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd practiced Thursday and Friday on a limited basis after taking Wednesday off. Loadholt is dealing with a left ankle injury and Floyd a left shoulder injury.
Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who appeared on Thursday’s report with a chest injury, is also expected to play and was a full participant Friday. All three are listed as probable.
“It’s just something that we found,” Zimmer said of Patterson’s injury. “I think he was dealing with it a little bit, but we just happened to find it. It’s not a big deal.”
Also listed as probable, meaning they are a “virtual certainty” to play, are TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen), CB Xavier Rhodes (groin) and LB Michael Mauti (foot).
“There’s a possibility that we won’t (fill it), but we could,” Zimmer said. “… We plan on making a move (at some point). We’ve got a list of everything that we’re trying to accomplish and where we need to go and go from there.”
“I know some teams have done that and I know some of my coaching friends, I’ve talked them about those things,” he said. “We need to focus on us, really, for what we need to accomplish.”
The Vikings started playing music during the start of practice this week for the first time this year, but Zimmer wouldn’t say if that was an attempt to keep the team loose during a distraction- and stress-filled week.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.