Vikings aiming for return to dominating ground game

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Take your pick. 54 to 13, or 30 to one.

Those were the ratios Monday night for Minnesota Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman and running back Adrian Peterson. For the game, Freeman had 53 pass attempts and was sacked once. Peterson, the reigning MVP had 13 carries for 28 yards.

In the fourth quarter, Freeman threw a staggering 30 passes with 19 incompletions. Peterson had one carry in the fourth quarter, his lone attempt coming with 10 minutes, 22 seconds in a game in which Minnesota never trailed by more than two possessions.

Peterson had 23 carries total the past two games and he wants to see the Vikings get back to their run-first ways.

“Any time you have two games with 13 carries or less, you definitely want more touches to get in the flow of things,” Peterson said when asked if he wanted more carries. “(Carolina, a 35-10 loss), the game got out of whack so we had to get away from the run game. But one thing that we’re going to do and get back to focusing on is establishing the run, getting those guys up front working and sweating and then be able to become more balanced.”

Peterson said after Monday night’s game the entire offense needs to become more physical and get back to the dominating running game the Vikings established last season. In the past two games, Minnesota has called 103 pass plays to 25 runs.

Asked if he had talked to the coaches about getting back to the running game, Peterson said, “I don’t think I had to.”

He didn’t.

The emphasis for Peterson and the Vikings is there. Coach Leslie Frazier spoke this week about the need to stay balanced and remain committed to the run even when it’s not working. Minnesota has faced loaded defensive fronts for years with Peterson at running back, facing eight or nine men in the box dedicated to stopping Peterson.

The Vikings took the mentality of forcing defenses to stop them.

“That has been our attitude in the past, that you know what we’re going to do, now you’ve got to stop it,” Frazier said. “And it’s not working so well right now. But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to deviate from what we do best or what we believe we do best. We just got to do it better than what we’re doing.

“We got the best running back in the National Football League, we got to block better across the board. He’s got to stay true to the hole and then when we have chances to make people pay in the passing game for being single-high, we got to do it. And we’re not doing that effectively enough.”

Frazier knows his team needs more balance, but patience is perhaps needed too. Peterson has been slowed in games this season and Minnesota has turned the MVP into a secondary option at times.

Throwing 53 times and running 14 is not the Vikings’ path to success and Frazier admitted to getting “a little too sideways” in the run-pass ratio on Monday night. Frazier said the offense can’t get away from the run, even if success isn’t coming.

“But that’s on us,” Frazier said. “That wasn’t so much what the other team was doing, the fact that we weren’t performing as well when it came to running the football We’ve got to stick to it. There’s going to be some moments when its two yards, one yard, maybe zero yards, and all of a sudden Adrian will break one. So, we’ve got to do a better job of just staying with it. We’re not going to win a lot of games throwing the ball 50 times. We’re not made up that way. We got to try to avoid that situation.”

Peterson has talked often in his career about “famine, famine, feast,” sticking with the run even with short gains and eventually he will break one loose, as he did so often last year with his historic second-half performance when he had more than 100 yards rushing in nine of the final 10 regular-season games.

Instead of continuing the trend this season, Peterson has gone over 100 yards twice in six games. Minnesota is actually the 11th-heaviest passing team in the league, averaging 37 pass attempts a game. This week’s opponent, the Green Bay Packers, have thrown the ball less this season, despite being known for opening up the passing game with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Since the Week 5 bye — which was coming off Peterson’s best game of the season with 140 yards rushing in Week 4 — the Vikings have called 103 passes to 25 runs. A blowout loss to Carolina skews the stats, but Peterson’s usage and effectiveness hasn’t been enough for the Minnesota or its highly-motivated running back.

Peterson isn’t sure why the Vikings haven’t maintained the same patience with the running game as past seasons.

“That’s a good question,” Peterson said. “I have no idea. I can’t answer that.”

Frazier said the answer to the running game is sustaining blocks and Peterson being patient to find the hole for the play that’s been called. Everyone agrees more physicality is needed.

“Well, I feel like we all can play more physical as an offensive unit,” Peterson said.

The offensive line takes the assertions of lack of physical play as a challenge.

“You know, that’s the MVP of the NFL so I’m going to take his advice,” left tackle Matt Kalil said. “We’re pretty tough on ourselves as critics, so I don’t think anyone is going to give any harsher judgment than we do on ourselves. We know we have to be more physical and maintain our blocks and he can run with the ball and do what he does best.”

Improvement in the run game would help ease the pressure on the quarterbacks, with the rotation continuing this week. Christian Ponder is back starting because of Freeman’s concussion.

Any quarterback’s job should be easier with Peterson in the backfield. Ponder learned to rely on an elite running game last season in helping the Vikings’ to the playoffs. Ponder only needed to take care of the ball and make the occasional play in the passing game to have Minnesota’s offense operating at full efficiency.

Nothing about this season has looked like last year, even when it comes to the running game with all the same pieces as last year in Peterson, fullback Jerome Felton, the three tight ends and the return of all five starting offensive linemen.

“We’ve got some things to get corrected like we all know,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “The only way we know to get them corrected, (offensive line coach) Jeff Davidson said it this morning in our meeting, ‘Everybody’s got to grab an oar, get on board and paddle as fast as they can in order to get this ship righted.’ That’s all we know. We’re not hitting on all cylinders in the run game like we’re accustomed to. So, we’re working to get that fixed.”

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