OK, Minnesota Vikings fans, take a breath. Now let it out. Feel better, now? No? Well that’s no good because the Vikings' future and, in particular, running back Adrian Peterson's is bright. On Monday night, the Vikings had no answers for what the San Francisco 49ers wanted to do, and it resulted in a 20-3 loss.
All eyes were on the return of star running back Adrian Peterson.
The 30-year old running back was returning to action after what was a tumultuous two seasons for him. It all started way back in September 2014 when the running back turned himself in and was charged with child abuse against his four-year-old son. Peterson was on and off the roster for the remainder of that season, and he was able to salvage a 1,266-yard season.
In 2015, Peterson played his last game on September 7, before sitting out the rest of the season as part of his team and/or league suspensions. So it was just over one year to the day that Peterson had played a football game.
So, it’s not a leap of faith to say Peterson was not going to have a huge first game back. After all, even though it is logical to say that the year off could be considered rest for a back with 2,262 touches in eight seasons. However, on the other side of that coin is the concept of being in game shape, and playing in rhythm with his teammates.
How bad was it for Peterson in his first game back? He finished with 10 carries for 31 yards, and chipped in three receptions for 21 more. Hardly the debut he and the Vikings fans were hoping for, but when you consider how the rest of the team played, it’s hardly surprising.
The Vikings offense failed on all fronts. And speaking of fronts, it all started with the offensive line.
Forty-niners defensive coordinator Eric Mangini dialed up the pressure, and the Vikings' offensive line collapsed like a house of cards. Peterson only had 10 carries, but less than half of those resulted in him breaking the line of scrimmage before breaking a tackle. Even quarterback Teddy Bridgewater caved to the pressure of the 49ers defense with those five matadors lined up in front of him.
NFL on ESPN noted the Vikings' plans for Peterson's return did not work out, highlighting his stats:
Even the new scheme doesn’t seem to mesh with what Peterson does best. Last season, the rushing game transitioned to a scheme that used a great deal of handoffs out of the shotgun. It was clear Monday night, that is not in Peterson’s wheelhouse. He is much more of an old-school back, preferring a deep setup, so that he can attack the line of scrimmage.
This sort of scheme probably suits Bridgewater better, but in order to achieve balance in the offense, head coach Mike Zimmer might need to seek out some middle ground between what system suits Bridgewater and which one favors Peterson.
In Monday’s game, Peterson came off the field for a long stretch at the end of the first half, presumably so that running backs Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata could get additional touches and try and spark the offense. These were the guys who ran this offense all last season.
Here’s what Yahoo Sports' Brad Evans and ESPN NFL analyst Mark Schlereth thought about Zimmer pulling Peterson out of the game:
Three plays. No Adrian Peterson touches. That makes complete sense.— Brad Evans (@YahooNoise) September 15, 2015
Good thinking sit Adrian Peterson for another drive they'll never see this coming— mark schlereth (@markschlereth) September 15, 2015
Once the 49ers figured out that this offensive game plan was not putting Peterson in his happy place, they just teed off on a rickety Vikings offensive line, and practically lived in the Minnesota backfield. Constantly playing from behind, against a 49ers team that was just grinding the football out on the ground at will made for a quandary for which Minnesota had no answer.
Nevertheless, Peterson is not where concern should lie. Even without playing in preseason, he looks fit and ready to be the focus of the offense. You want to worry about something, then worry about a coach that is likely to play the “no player is bigger than the team” card, and try and shoehorn Peterson into an offense that impinges on what the team’s best player does best.
Peterson did give everyone watching a little taste of the AD "All Day" they have been missing. NFL Network's tweet illustrated confidence in Peterson's ability to always be a team asset:
In the final analysis, there’s no reason to panic and no reason to panic about the offensive group as a whole. No matter how stubborn Zimmer is, he’s not going to let hubris get in the way of performance and production. When the Vikings take on the Detroit Lions next Sunday, a much-bigger dose of No. 28 and an offense that resembles the 2013 incarnation much more than what we saw in the Monday night debacle.