Offensive coordinator Norv Turner wouldn’t be blamed if he felt he was cursed, considering that, in less than a month he has lost arguably the three most important players in any offense – his quarterback, his running back and his left tackle.
Teddy Bridgewater has been replaced by Sam Bradford. Matt Kalil is being replaced by T.J. Clemmings. But, the bigger question is how do the Vikings move on from the injury that has sidelined Peterson.
“We’re always going to strive for balance,” Turner said. “We need to be able to execute. We will look at what a defense’s strengths and weaknesses are and try to take advantage of the weaknesses while avoiding their strengths. We want to have balance. We want to run the ball. We feel like it helps our protection and gives us opportunities to run our passing game the way we’d like to. We’ve been in this situation a couple of years ago, and Matt and Jerick before (Peterson) was injured did a lot of good things. They’re two years older and we’re just going to approach it that way.”
The Vikings are hitting the remainder of the schedule dealing with a situation in which they have some experience.
When Adrian Peterson was suspended in 2014, McKinnon and Asiata shared the running back duties and proved to be an adequate mix – McKinnon getting to the outside with big-play potential and Asiata bulldozing his way between the tackles.
Turner knows both of their strengths and has a frame of reference from where to draw.
“It helps those two guys because they’re two years older and they’ve played,” Turner said. “With that group we were with a quarterback who was starting his first game and a lot of different issues. We’re much further along than that. We’ll put together a good plan and do everything we can to execute it.”
The big question being posed now was whether the struggles with the Vikings running game had to do with Peterson, the offensive line, defenses flooding the box with defenders or a combination of all three.
Turner said there is no easy answer to that question. He and his staff have been deep-diving that question for three weeks in search of viable explanations.
“To answer that you’d have to break it down play-by-play-by-play because if you’re going good, that means a lot of people are getting their job done,” Turner said. “Whether it be tight ends, the offensive line, the fullback or the backs, our issues have been a lot of different little things. Some of it is guys playing together for the first time. Some of it is we’ve played two really good run defenses and their focus was to stop the run. To me, those are things that happen to you early in the season. As I told our guys on Monday, ‘The good teams find a way to improve and fix issues that their having’ and I think we will do that.”
The Vikings didn’t intend to do a retro backfield of McKinnon and Asiata, but Turner is devising game plans that will allow one, the other or both to attack what are the perceived weaknesses of opposing defenses. How the mix of the two incumbents and the addition of Ronnie Hillman is spread out is to be determined,
Turner has to tuck away the portion of the playbook that centered on Peterson – just about every play in which the quarterback lined up under center – and is ready to move forward with yet another plan in late September that wasn’t part of the plan in late August.
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“I think what Matt and Jerick do complement each other,” Turner said. “I think they’re two really good football players who work really hard to grow, get better, be professionals and understand what we’re doing. They’re both capable of being good pass protectors. They’re both good receivers. We can mix them however we want, but Jerick with his explosiveness and his ability to come out of the backfield when appropriate, we will try to take advantage of that.”