With each new day comes a new twist to the Vikings 2016 season. The latest being rumors circulating that running back Adrian Peterson might be primed for a late season return after leaving the Green Bay game in week two early with a knee injury.
At the time, there was plenty of talk of the Vikings not necessarily missing Peterson and that Jerick McKinnon was a better fit for the offense moving forward. After weeks of watching the running game struggle to gain any momentum, I wondered if opinions have changed.
Can Adrian Peterson make an impact in Pat Shurmur’s offense?
I will be the first one to say Adrian Peterson did not fit well in Norv Turner’s offense. His skill set clashed with that of Teddy Bridgewater, his inability to pass block was thrust into focus and his lack of adept receiving traits limited him to being primarily a two-down back, which made the Vikings offense both predictable and inconsistent.
If Peterson returns, however, he could find himself playing in an offense capable of utilizing his strengths without bringing his weaknesses to the forefront. The West Coast principles Pat Shurmur has centered his play-calling around require less time to execute, which, in turn, allows Minnesota to move the ball without max-protect personnel groupings.
In theory, Peterson could again be employed as a three-down back — similar to how he was in Bill Musgrave’s West Coast offense — as a quick-hitting aerial attack places a greater burden on wide receivers to create separation quickly as opposed to Turner’s scheme that placed a lot on the shoulders of the front-five, Rhett Ellison and Matt Asiata to sustain blocks long enough for route concepts to develop.
The issue of whether Peterson can co-exist in an offense that has operated primarily out of the shotgun through three weeks under Shurmur still remains, but Sam Bradford has had success executing the same quick passing plays from under center in limited opportunities (Adam Thielen’s second-quarter touchdown in Washington, for example).
Above all, Minnesota is in desperate need of a more creative between-the-tackles rusher that possesses both lateral agility and the ability to make something out of nothing due to its offensive line’s run-blocking issues — and Peterson certainly provides that.
It may actually be possible for Adrian Peterson to succeed in a Pat Shurmur offense. Unlike Norv Turner, Shurmur like to utilize every offensive weapon he has on his roster.
Peterson is obviously a talented player and Shurmur knows that, so the coordinator will likely do whatever he can to put his running back in the best position to succeed. But even if Peterson struggles at first, Shurmur has already shown that he is not afraid to get creative in order to get the most out the talent the Vikings have on offense.
If the Vikings are a ship, they’ve sailed right past Peterson. Sure, he’ll make his return to the field later this season, but what good can he do now for a historically bad rushing attack?
Even before his injury, Peterson struggled to run from the shotgun; heck, he struggled to run out of any formation or alignment. Through two games, he’d rushed 31 times for 50 yards, good for 1.61 yards per attempt. Out of the shotgun, he gained 15 yards on six carries, which was surprisingly better than his snaps out of the traditional I-Formation.
Yes, Pat Shurmur’s done a better job accentuating his playmakers’ specific strengths, but Peterson is a square peg in a round hole. He’s never been comfortable running from the shotgun, weeks of inactivity won’t help that, and Shurmur’s style doesn’t fit Peterson’s best traits.
It doesn’t help that Minnesota’s offensive line isn’t opening holes up front, and there’s no knowing if Peterson will suddenly return to full speed, pre-injury form. Even at full strength, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata are finding very few opportunities on the ground. While Peterson’s a future Hall of Famer, he’s not suddenly going to transform his game and maximize the few chances that come running behind a leaky Vikings offensive line.
There’s no quick fix for the Vikings’ running game woes. They’re here to stay, and Shurmur’s reliance on the quick-hitting pass attack is a serviceable bandaid at the moment. Peterson’s return will do little to change that.
As noted above, I was one who had moved on from Peterson’s fit within the offense. Tired of the ‘up the gut’ predictable runs on 1st and 2nd down, I have long wanted the Vikings to spread out the offense and rely more on a quick passing offense.
That said, I’ve probably come around a little bit and have grown worried about McKinnon’s apparent hesitancy on some running plays in recent weeks
Do I think Peterson can be as effective as years past? No, I don’t. That said, the offense needs any kind of spark it can get and Peterson – a leader within the locker room – can provide that.
There is something about a team that catches momentum going into December or the playoffs. If Peterson can aid in catching that wind behind the Vikings sails, I’m all for feeding him the ball. Can it get worse?