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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Adrian Peterson faces heavy load Week 1

By Matthew Coller

Whether Shaun Hill or Sam Bradford is under center on Sunday for the Minnesota Vikings won’t matter much to how the Tennessee Titans prepare because their main focus will be on stopping Adrian Peterson.

Teddy Bridgewater’s outstanding preseason appeared to be a window into a balanced offense, rather than run-heavy, it would utilize new receiving weapons to accentuate the third-year quarterback’s accuracy in the intermediate passing game. Instead, the weight of the offense is back to being carried by Peterson.

There are many different ways that defenses aim to stop run-focused offenses, but most of them include some form of loading up “the box” with eight defenders. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said on Thursday he expects to see a high number of 8-man fronts from the Titans.

The Washington Post did an excellent breakdown of how opponents will attack the Vikings using film from the pre-Bridgewater era.

“In addition to simply bringing extra defenders into the box, teams may get creative with their defensive fronts in anticipation of the run,” author Mark Schofield wrote. “For example, teams that play a 3-4 base defense might employ more Eagle or Under fronts, variations of the defense that bring both outside linebackers onto the line of scrimmage.”

We don’t have to go back that far to see opponents putting their focus on Peterson. Last year, the Vikings were able to move the ball effectively through the air with Bridgewater averaging 7.2 yards per attempt, but his struggles throwing deep still allowed teams to load up on AP.

Also it is notable that in 2013, the Vikings did not have Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator and used a fullback much more often. In ‘13, Peterson ran out of the I-Formation 144 times. Last season that number dropped to only 48 carries. He was mostly given the ball as the single back. In lone setback formations, Peterson saw 197 rushes.

One of the ways the Vikings will combat teams adding an extra defender is to use two tight end sets. Last season, AP ran 118 times for 500 yards (4.2 per carry) with two TEs. He ran 75 times with three tight ends, which will also be an option for the rushing offense.

Here is one example of how the Vikes got creative with two TE sets against an eight-man front last year against the Giants. Both TEs line up on the same side, with the closest player to the right tackle doubling up the defensive end and the other TE blocking right on the linebacker to open up the hole. Notice the defensive back, who has been brought down to be the eighth man, comes into the picture late as his route to Peterson is blocked off by the second TE pushing the LB to the right.

The Vikings were effective running Peterson to the outsides in 2015. When eight men are stacked up his quick-cut ability allows for handoffs that look like they are going straight up the middle, but bounce to the left or right. Using the outsides can essentially eliminate half of the eight players stacked up to stop the future Hall of Fame back.

Peterson’s splits demonstrate his success going outside.

Right side: 87 carries, 6.0 YPC

Left side: 74 carries, 3.4 YPC

Middle: 108 carries, 3.9 YPC

Right sideline: 22 carries, 5.6 YPC

Left sideline: 36 carries, 4.9 YPC

While Peterson was the NFL’s best running back in 2015, he was also the most used with 327 carries. One of the mitigating factors of his age was supposed to be the team’s transition into a passing offense. Instead, he may be forced to clear 300 carries again. The concern: History is not kind to running backs his age.

Football Perspective dug into the age curve for running backs – most of whom are retired by Peterson’s age. Author Chase Stuart wrote that a RB’s prime is usually between the ages of 24 and 27. He used a stat called “Rushing Yards over 2.0 Per Carry” to study their decline.

The study did find examples of elite running backs who continued their prime into their early 30s such as Curtis Martin and Fred Taylor. Martin set his career high in yards during his age 31 season and Taylor averaged 5.4 Yards Per Carry in his.

“We’re always looking for the signs, and often by the time we know a running back is washed up, it’s too late,” Stuart wrote. “Is it clear that age is an essential component in predicting future running back performance, as players at that position decline as a group pretty consistently after the age of 26. But just because an individual running back reaches a certain age doesn’t mean the grim reaper is around the corner.”

So there is no telling if/when Peterson will hit the wall. The Vikings are sure hoping it isn’t this year.

Working against the offense in Week 1 is an inkjet to solid RB2 Jerick McKinnon. Last season McKinnon averaged 5.2 Yards Per Carry and added 21 receptions at 8.2 Yards Per Catch. While his 52 carries were too few to qualify to be among the NFL leaders, he would have ranked second in the NFL in Yards Per Carry only behind Thomas Rawls (5.6).

McKinnon’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield was once a luxury for Bridgewater, but if/when he is healthy, the third-year back could become a huge part of the offense with Bradford under center.

The other component to Minnesota’s hugely important rushing game is their offensive line. The Vikings will be putting a lot of hope behind the five guys up front. Hope that Matt Kalil’s solid camp and preseason can carry over, hope that Alex Boone can make a positive impact in his first season, hope that Brandon Fusco can take strides forward.

That’s a lot of hope.

So Peterson shouldn’t count on a ton of help to open 2016. But he can count on Turner’s creativity and two Tight End sets. Until Bradford gets up to speed, the running game will have to succeed against teams gearing up for it in order for the Vikings to win.

The post Adrian Peterson faces heavy load Week 1 appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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