As injuries mount for the Minnesota Vikings, their biggest obstacle to overcome still might the lack of a running game with Adrian Peterson out indefinitely while facing an indictment of reckless or negligent injury to a child.
Now that they have rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater starting in place of the injured Matt Cassel, who broke “several” bones in his foot, according to head coach Mike Zimmer, the running game could become even more important.
Zimmer said he didn’t know if Peterson would return to the team again this year, but the Vikings could certainly use his explosive plays.
Last week against the New England Patriots, the Vikings averaged only 2.8 yards on 19 carries in the first game of the season without Peterson. Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, it was a near replication. The Vikings averaged 2.7 yards on 22 carries.
“We get paid to figure out what we can do better, how we can accentuate what he can do and we’ve got to keep figuring out ways that we can run the ball better,” Zimmer said.
So far, they really haven’t had any answers.
Matt Asiata, who has been called upon 25 times in the last two games, is averaging only 2.8 yards per carry. Rookie Jerick McKinnon has been used sparingly, rushing only four times for a combined 6 yards in the last two plays.
And after three games, the Vikings as a team are averaging 99 yards a game rushing. Take out Cordarelle Patterson’s four rushes for 95 yards in the opener, when Peterson was still part of the offense, and they are averaging only 68 yards rushing per game as a team. No Peterson has equated to a big problem.
“We can’t worry about what we don’t have. What we have to worry about is what we do have and how we can go forward from where we are,” Zimmer said. “No one is going to feel sorry for us. No one is going to cry that we don’t have this guy or that guy. We’re certainly not going to make excuses about it.”
Despite having a new starting quarterback, the running game has to be a big focus for coaching staff.
The Vikings ran the ball 11 times on first down Sunday, but only one of them – a 15-yard scramble by Bridgewater – gained more than 5 yards. Asiata’s seven first-down rushes gained only 16 yards.
“It’s disappointing, obviously, that we don’t have (Peterson). I mean he’s the best player in the world – I think he’s the best player in the league,” fullback Jerome Felton said. “It’s disappointing, but I won’t call it a distraction. I mean we played hard and well enough to win. We just made too many mistakes out there.”
McKinnon didn’t fare any better than Asiata. Both of his rushes came on first down – one going for a yard and another going for a 2-yard loss.
Overall, the Vikings’ tailbacks carried 14 times for 34 yards. The previous week, it was 15 times for 43 yards.
“We’re going to keep going back to work, keep fighting,” Zimmer said. “We’re trying to build what I want this football to look like. The only way I know how to do it is by hard work. That’s the only way. There’s no magic wand. We’ve just got to keep going. The one thing I feel good about this football team is they’ve got a lot of heart. I’m going to have to fix some things, but I think they’ve got a lot of heart. They’ll fight and they’re trying to do the very best they can and we’ve just got to do better.”
For the second straight road game, the Vikings had issues with their headsets. In the season opener at St. Louis, it happened in the first quarter. Zimmer said it happened again on Sunday.
“These dang headsets. I don’t know what’s going on with them. Out of three weeks, we’ve had two issues so we need to get that fixed,” Zimmer said.
“Everything is more difficult because the clock is running down, you’re not able to line up and motion and whatever you need to do. You have to repeat a couple of times and all the sudden they give you a different look at the line of scrimmage and you can’t change what you need to do. I’m sure we’re not the only team that has these issues. I don’t think it’s the headsets per se but this is twice in visiting stadiums that this has happened.”
It had to be especially trying for a rookie quarterback making his first NFL appearance in a loud Superdome environment, but Zimmer said Bridgewater handled it well.
“New Orleans at home in the dome and the crowd is a pretty tough place to play, but for me it’s just me hearing the play and calling the play in the huddle,” said Bridgewater, who downplayed the issues with the headsets.
“At the start it got a little bit sloppy, I thought, but at the end it looked like it was pretty good,” Zimmer said of the protection. “He’s able to buy a little bit more time in the pocket at times with his quickness. Obviously we’ve got to sharpen him up on a lot of things as well.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.