Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said that he has made the decision on who his starting quarterback is going to be on Sunday, but still has not made it public knowledge. Regardless of whether it’s Sam Bradford or Shaun Hill lining up under center, though, the Vikings’ primary objective on offense will be to establish the running game with Adrian Peterson.
If the Vikings are able to get Peterson rolling, the passing game should open up, making things easier for either quarterback. And the success of the running game all starts with the offensive line. As great a runner as Peterson is, if there are no holes to run through he will struggle.
“I think we’re a run-first team,” said offensive guard Brandon Fusco. “It’s always been like that for the last, I don’t know how long I’ve been here, six years. I think you set up the run and you run the ball it sets up the pass very well. We just got to do a good job up front, get the ball moving in the running game and that should open up the pass.”
The challenge of clearing the way for Peterson may not be as easy at it first appears, though. Many people already want to write the Tennessee Titans off as a win for the Vikings, but it’s more than likely going to turn into a tough game. Not only do the Titans have one of the best one-two punches running the ball in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, and a young and talented quarterback in Marcus Mariota, but they also have a solid defense.
Last season they ranked 18th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing an average of 112.3 yards a game. Now, that is nothing to write home about, but they have looked a lot better this preseason, allowing an average of 94.5 yards a game during the preseason.
Granted, it’s the preseason and the players they are facing for a majority of those games do not compare to Peterson, but the Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer knows it will be a tough battle for his running back all game.
“They’re physical up front, they move a lot, they’ll stunt, they get off blocks well, they attack downhill with the linebackers,” he said of the Titans’ run defense. “They do a good job.”
The offensive line has also taken notice of the Titans defense and seems to know that they are going to have their hands full this game.
“Really good defense. A lot of guys that can fly around and hit you,” said right tackle Andre Smith. “Very good defensive line and some really good outside linebackers that can rush the quarterback.”
It’s also important to remember that Peterson may be a little rusty in the first couple weeks of the season since he didn’t get any reps during the preseason. This is nothing new, since he really hasn’t taken a preseason rush since 2011 - he did see the field in 2013, but never received a handoff - but he has struggled getting things going to begin the season after missing the preseason.
He did not record a 100-yard game until Week 4 of the 2012 season. Things were better in 2013, as he recorded 93 yards in the first game of the season, but that was also partially due to a 78-yard touchdown run on the team’s first offensive play of the game - other than that he only ran for 15 yards on 17 carries. Then there is the 2014 season, where he only played in the first regular-season game, but even then he only ran for 75 yards on 21 carries. Peterson then came back after missing most of the 2014 season and the 2015 preseason, but did not look like himself during the team’s first regular season game in 2015, running for 31 yards on 10 carries.
The Vikings know the importance of getting the running game established in order to help out their starting quarterback, but it may be easier said than done. Peterson often needs a game or two to kick off the rust after missing the preseason and there is nothing indicating that this season will be any different.