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Uphill battle: Vikings may have to improve subpar run game sans Peterson

By Derek Wetmore

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – The Vikings are 2-0 despite some shoddy play from their offensive line. That needs to improve quickly, as they’ll square off with a high-powered Carolina offense next week.

You know the Panthers will score some points, so if the Vikings are to keep pace – with or without Adrian Peterson – they’ll need their big bodies up front to protect better and take care to open a few more running lanes .

“We didn’t play very good up front last night,” head coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. “We didn’t pass protect very well, we didn’t do a very good job in run block.They got after us up front, I thought. So we’ve got to do better.”

His overall assessment of the team’s running game through two weeks?

“Not very good.”

Through two games, the Vikings have mustered just 95 yards on 50 attempts, a meager 1.9 yards per carry. Their 47.5 yards per game average is last in the NFL, which is both a credit to them (winning two games with two different quarterbacks despite this terrible showing) and a detriment (the remade offensive line can’t keep any defenders out of the way). In both views of the current situation, it’s a foreboding sign.

Add to that equation that Adrian Peterson tore his meniscus in his right knee Sunday, and the Vikings might have a problem on their hands.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Peterson on average Sunday gained less than a yard – one foot, actually – before a defender got his mitts on the running back. That’s brutal, and confirms the snap judgment that Peterson seems to be getting hit in the backfield an awful lot this season.

The 0.33 yards per carry Adrian Peterson averaged before contact was the fifth-lowest of his career, per @ESPNStatsInfo.

— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingESPN) September 19, 2016

It’s possible some of the overall shortcomings to date are on Peterson. We haven’t seen the burst of speed we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. But when he’s constantly being grabbed at the line of scrimmage, there’s only so much a running back can do, even if we’re talking about one of the all-time greats.

Minnesota signed free agents Alex Boone and Andre Smith to shore up an offensive line that had a bad year last year, and the early returns on the unit as a whole have not been good. To be fair, right tackle Phil Loadholt retired because of an injury, Mike Harris is still missing with a mysterious ailment, and center John Sullivan was cut before the season because the Vikings assessed that Joe Berger was better for the job.

If Peterson misses a week – which isn’t official but seems like the balance of probability at this point – the Vikings likely would turn to a tandem of Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata. Remember, McKinnon also has been limited by a foot and leg injury this year, so that could factor into the time share as well.

“It’s just devastating to see that happen to an important player on our team, but you just have to prepare like you’re starting and that’s what I did, just tried to go out there and execute,” Asiata said Monday.

Arif Hasan writes a weekly offensive line column at 1500ESPN.com, and the assessment after week 1 was far from glowing. Basically, the O-line’s debut was a mixture of bad pass protection in front of Shaun Hill and awful run blocking in front of Peterson.

Zimmer was clear Monday that those issues need to be fixed. And if they have to do it without Peterson? He knows the Panthers won’t spend any time this week feeling sorry for their next opponent.

Asiata said that there’s “always something to improve every day and every week and something as a team we’re going to try to work on is our running game and go out there and try our best to clean it up.”

The challenge this week will be to do so without arguably their most important player in the running game.

The post Uphill battle: Vikings may have to improve subpar run game sans Peterson appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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