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Breaking Down Adrian Peterson's Struggles in Pass Protection in 2015

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IOctober 10, 2015

Sep 20, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) talk during a break in the second half against the Detroit Lions at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings won 26-16. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Adrian Peterson leads the NFL in rushing yards after four games, proving he's still the same game-breaking runner of the football he was before missing 15 games last season. 

The Minnesota Vikings running back is also still the same dreadful pass protector.

According to Pro Football Focus, Peterson ranks 48th among running backs in pass-blocking efficiency in 2015. He's been credited with allowing one sack, two quarterback hits and two hurries, equalling five total disruptions over just 26 pass-blocking snaps. Only two other running backs have allowed as many as five this season. 

While head coach Mike Zimmer is convinced Peterson has become better at protecting the quarterback, he acknowledges that it's clearly still a work in progress. 

"The thing about Adrian is that he doesn’t just say, 'Hey, I’m a running back, I don’t want to work on it,'" Zimmer said in a press conference on Monday. "He wants to work on this. He wants to be out there as much as he possibly can, so he’s committed to becoming a better pass protector, and I believe he is. He’s working very hard at it."

The progress is hard to see. Back in 2013, Peterson was one of 11 running backs to allow 10 or more quarterback disruptions. He's currently on pace for 20 this season. 

A few examples from the first four games illustrate Peterson's struggles.

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Back in Week 1, Peterson was at least partially responsible for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater taking a third-down sack:

Source: NFL Game Pass
Source: NFL Game PassSource: NFL Game Pass

The 49ers brought both inside and outside pressure, using safety Jaquiski Tartt through the A-gap and safety Eric Reid to the right of the offense. Peterson hesitated, moving forward for just a moment before attempting to recover and block Reid. As a result, neither player was accounted for as the two safeties combined to take down Bridgewater. Center Joe Berger was also to blame as he whiffed on handling Tartt's blitz—leaving Peterson in a no-win situation. 

A series earlier, Peterson also failed to recognize a blitzer: 

Source: NFL Game Pass
Source: NFL Game PassSource: NFL Game Pass

The Vikings used a play-action fake, which put Peterson slightly out of position to handle pressure off the right side. But he was still woefully late in identifying and reacting, and his last-ditch attempt at negating the blitz ended with Peterson on the ground. Bridgewater was then rushed, forcing an inaccurate throw to receiver Charles Johnson on a wheel route. 

Not all bad blocks end the same. Peterson made the best of this blown pickup a week later:

Source: NFL Game Pass
Source: NFL Game PassSource: NFL Game Pass

Once again, he wasn't in great position after running a play-fake. But Peterson should have had no problem handling Lions linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who was running clean inside. He overwhelmed the Vikings running back at the point of attack and got to Bridgewater. The play really should have ended in a drive-ending sack, but Bridgewater improvised and flipped to Peterson, who rumbled down the right sidelines for 49 yards. 

His struggles in Denver were a part of the reason why the Vikings were unable to come from behind and upset the Broncos

In the first quarter, Peterson found himself completely lost on a Denver blitz: 

Source: NFL Game Pass
Source: NFL Game PassSource: NFL Game Pass

The Broncos sent safety T.J. Ward off the offense's left side, working alongside DeMarcus Ware. Peterson and left tackle Matt Kalil weren't on the same page as both players focused on Ward's blitz to the outside. This mistake left Ware free to the inside, and Peterson's attempt to knock him off course wasn't enough. Ward and Ware met at Bridgewater for the easy sack. The Vikings eventually punted. 

Peterson's final mistake in pass protection ended the game:

Source: NFL Game Pass
Source: NFL Game PassSource: NFL Game Pass

Once again, Denver sent pressure. Left outside linebacker Von Miller attacked to the inside, with Ward and linebacker Brandon Marshall crashing off his outside shoulder. The blitz freed up both Marshall and Ward, and Peterson blocked neither of them. Instead of breaking off his swing route and attempting to block the two, he continued into the flat and left Bridgewater out to dry. 

"I put that on me," Peterson said afterwards, via Jace Frederick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I've got to come through and make that block for Teddy."

Ward stripped Bridgewater to finish the play, ending Minnesota's final march and preserving Denver's three-point win.

The Vikings now enter the bye week with a chance to continue Peterson's education in pass protection. The team preached all offseason that he was going to be just fine in Norv Turner's system. 

"He is an outstanding pass protector when you keep him in his element," Turner said in July, via Ben Goessling of ESPN. "We don't want him blocking defensive ends. We don't want him blocking 280-pound outside linebackers. When he's blocking the people he should be blocking, he's very good in pass protection."

So far, the root problem has been Peterson's inability to recognize where he needs to be in pass protection. Blitzes have routinely confused him. Once out of position, Peterson has been no match for any player—including safeties and linebackers.

The Vikings want Peterson on the field as much as possible, including passing situations and third downs. But with a struggling offensive line and a quarterback getting hit left and right, is it really smart for Minnesota to keep working through Peterson's missed assignments in pass protection in real time?

Peterson is still a very average pass blocker. The Vikings can't afford the same volume of mistakes from him over the next 12 games.  

Zach Kruse covers the Vikings for Bleacher Report. 

Follow @zachkruse2

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