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Thursday, 26 September 2013

Running Back Into Contention?

3 games into the season and a return to the playoffs looks like a long shot for the Minnesota Vikings. They've already lost to 2 divisional rivals, first on the road in Detroit and then in a heart-breaker at Soldier Field to the undefeated Chicago Bears. Then there's the 1-2 Green Bay Packers who already have two of their tougher out of division games behind them. So how does a 0-3 team make it to January football?

At today's press conference, their first since arriving in London on tuesday, head coach Leslie Frazier told us how they can get back to winning ways:

" We're doing some things that don't allow you to win football games. Turning the ball over, not winning the field position battle ... We've got to find a way to get it turned around."

Ok, so cut down on turnovers and make sure you're attacking short fields while defending long ones. Sounds simple enough, and they were doing a good job with this during their run to the post-season in 2012, so we know it's in their repertoire. So why hasn't it clicked for them yet? Well first and foremost Adrian Peterson's superhuman performances from last season have dried up. In the final 7 games of 2012, where the Vikings went 5-2 (including wins over Detroit, Chicago, Green Bay and Houston) Peterson was smashing out an average of 6.3 yards per carry. So far this season? A very human 4.1 yards a carry. Perfectly acceptable though, even if it is below his career average. There's also the possibility that his fumbling problems of old have returned. After fumbling 6 times over the last 3 seasons he's already lost 2 this year.

There's always time for Sully & Co. to work
on the fundamentals
With Peterson returning to the realm of mortals, the new-look passing game has had to try and carry some of the offensive weight. Percy Harvin was traded in the off-season and in have come Greg Jennings via free agency and Cordarrelle Patterson through the draft. So far they don't seem to have fully found a rhythm with 3rd year quarterback Christian Ponder (Just 2 passing TD's to 5 interceptions). And meanwhile Ponder is dealing with a rib injury sustained early on in the Browns game in week 3.

Through all this the offensive line, unchanged from last year, has had it's own fall back to earth. The gaping holes that Peterson could burst through have dried up and the pass protection has become somewhat shaky (10 sacks allowed so far). So when an offense cools down after a hot streak, how do you get back on form?

A big key for the offense is the return of full back Jerome Felton. That's right, full backs can still play a big role in 2013 NFL offenses. As Adrian Peterson told us today:

"Felton is a big part of our run game. There's a confidence I feel ... knowing his approach and his mentality. He's a guy that I know I can count on. It's good to have him back."

Any time the reigning MVP is happy to have you back in the line-up you know you're key to his success. And yes, #28 is still seeing 8 and even 9 man boxes, but not at a higher rate than last year, and Peterson sounded very upbeat and confident about getting some of that toughness back in the run game. Not just through himself and Jerome Felton, but from the offensive line as well, who we're more than happy to talk to us about the challenges facing them not just this week against a prennially tough Steelers defense, but the season as a whole:

John Sullivan: "It's going to be a challenge. [Pittsburgh] have a lot of great players, obviously some of the faces have changed but a lot of them are still the same and they're playing a high level. It's going to be a physical game, we know that. We're just looking to execute well ... We've reviewed the game-tapes, we know we need to execute better and that's what we're looking to change."

Execution. That's what a lot of this comes down to. The Vikings haven't been executing the fundamentals in a lot of circumstances, but despite their rocky start and growing habit for heart-breaking losses there was no one looking sorry for themselves at training today. Just optimism:

Matt Kalil: "We still have 13 games to play, it's still a long season. We're in a little hole right now but we can definitely dig ourselves out. I think we have the players and the coaches to do that."

This attitude goes a long way to explaining why they didn't seem surprised to get into the play-offs last year, and weren't content to just make 2 first round selections this April but made an aggressive move to go and get a 3rd. This team feels like they're capable of competing, and with Adrian Peterson who's to say they can't? In the end, the hopes of the 2013 Vikings rest exactly where we all thought they would though. Squarely on the shoulders of #28 and their running game. If they can come close to the form they found down the stretch last year, where the line, full back and ball carrier were all in perfect sync, then this becomes an offense that no one wants to face, in a conference that's suddenly looking a bit shakier than the pre-season predictions made seem possible. The come back starts this sunday in Wembley Stadium.

- Toby Durant (@TDonSport)
- The Pulling Linemen

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