For the most part, at least initially, that slack was picked up by Matt Asiata. For the first two games following Peterson’s absence from the team, Asiata was on the field for about 70 percent of the Vikings’ offensive plays. Over the last three weeks, however, that number has dropped off significantly – from 57 percent to 55 percent to just 23 percent of the snaps last week against Detroit – while Jerick McKinnon’s numbers are on the rise.
Asiata was somewhat a forgotten man last week, but he’s looking to Sunday’s game with the Bills as a chance to get back into the mix and he believes he and McKinnon can coexist in the backfield just fine, even if neither of them gets in the rhythm featured backs are accustomed to.
“I think so,” Asiata said. “With me and Jerick back there – I think Jerick is doing a hell of a job – we’ve just got to be ready. When one of us goes out, the other one needs to come in and help set the tempo.”
During his Wednesday press conference, head coach Mike Zimmer said he would like to see Asiata get more touches in the backfield than he got last week. While that news to Asiata, he was glad to hear that his head coach appreciates what he does and wants to see more of it.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard of it,” Asiata said. “It does feel good having the head coach have your back. We’ve just got to go out and execute and move the ball.”
It wasn’t until late last week that McKinnon and Asiata found out that their roles were going to be reversed. Asiata went from being the starter to being on the field for just one play in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Lions.
Asiata said he wasn’t frustrated about his reduced role because it wasn’t all that much different from what he faced when Peterson was in the backfield. His preparation remained the same and he knew that “next man up” would be him and complaining about it wouldn’t do anybody any good.
“It is what it is,” Asiata said. “I can’t say much about it. Whatever the coach’s plan is, we just have to go out there and execute the offense.”
The Vikings haven’t come out with their plan for splitting time between Asiata and McKinnon and likely won’t in hopes of keeping the Bills guessing as to what their plan is. Whether Asiata starts or has to wait his turn to get in, he’s not going to change how he prepares. He knows that when the time comes, he has to be ready to provide a spark to the Vikings offense.
“It’s not really a waiting game,” Asiata said. “You always have to be prepared. Being behind Adrian, you never knew because, obviously, he could play the whole game. You always have to be prepared in whatever you’re doing. When your (number) is called, you have to be ready to go out and play.”
The one thing that will be similar from last week is the type of defensive front the Vikings will be facing. The Lions were bringing pressure up the middle and on the edge with an aggressive pass rush that bottled up the running game and sacked Teddy Bridgewater eight times. Asiata is convinced the Bills are going to use that blueprint in their own attack on the Vikings offense. “Buffalo has a similar front to Detroit,” Asiata said. “They’re fast. They’re physical. They’ve got big ’backers. We’ve got to come ready to play. Nothing is easy. Every week is different and we’ll see on Sunday.”
Whether Asiata returns to being the primary back, is the change of pace guy like he was last week, or he and McKinnon have an equal time share as the season progresses, he’s not going to change what he does because, given the fickle nature of the NFL, he could be asked to take on a lion’s share of the workload at any time.
“You never know how it’s going to play out,” Asiata said. “Players get hurt. Sometimes you go with the guy who is hot at the time. You have to come into the game expecting you’re going to be carrying the ball a lot. It may not happen that way, but that’s how you have to get yourself prepared, because it might happen.”