NFC North: Minnesota Vikings
MINNEAPOLIS -- Teddy Bridgewater's first NFC North game was supposed to come against the Green Bay Packers in prime time at Lambeau Field four days after he threw for 317 yards in his first NFL start. The fact the rookie missed that game with a sprained ankle, evidently, was still on his mind on Sunday, when a quarterback usually lauded for his composure came out firing rockets.
On a day when their defense held the league's hottest offense to 24 points and their cornerbacks won plaudits from Aaron Rodgers, the Vikings will have to wonder if they could have secured their first NFC North win of the year had Bridgewater been more accurate. In the first two quarters, he overshot Charles Johnson deep, threw too high for Jarius Wright, had an interception overturned by a holding penalty, fired a 9-yard pass that required a leaping grab from Greg Jennings, floated an interception that Micah Hyde said "felt like it was in the air for five seconds" and threw another high pass that Tramon Williams nearly intercepted. In the third, he missed Johnson on a deep throw after Sam Shields fell down, costing the Vikings a chance at a touchdown before Blair Walsh's field goal.
Bridgewater settled down in the fourth quarter, playing his best as he usually does when the Vikings tried to rally late. He hit eight of his 10 throws in the fourth quarter, for 69 yards and a touchdown, as the Vikings pulled within three of Green Bay. But the efficient, assured quarterbacking Bridgewater did at the end of the game made it easy to wonder why he couldn't play that way earlier.
"I didn't think he was as accurate as he normally is early in the ballgame," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He had a couple of high throws, a couple of missed throws. He seemed to settle down in the second half -- now, he got hit a bunch of times; we didn't protect him nearly well enough. He continued to keep drives alive in the second half, so those were all good things. We have to start, he needs to play better in the first half."
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Bridgewater was off target on seven of his 37 passes on Sunday, which was tied for the third-most off-target throws he has had in a game this season. He generally hasn't been among the league's wildest quarterbacks this season -- he's 15th in the league in terms of the most off-target throws per game -- but what sticks out is how many of his struggles have come early in games. On Sunday, six of his seven off-target throws came in the first half, and for the season, Bridgewater has the league's fifth-lowest QBR through two quarters.
"One of the things I told him is, 'You can't win a game by yourself; you can't lose a game by yourself,'" Jennings said. "When you have a guy that you know is trying to do everything the right way, you're willing to be patient. There's mistakes that I will make. There's mistakes he's going to make. But at the end of the day, I can't focus on the mistakes. We have to learn how to be together, and make sure we're doing things the right way to give our team a chance to win."
Bridgewater has criticized himself for overthinking things on a number of occasions this season, and his rough start to Sunday's game seemed to be because he was too fired up. It's another thing he's working through as a rookie quarterback, but on Sunday, it cost him a chance for a better debut against the Vikings' biggest rival.
Tate active but absent in debut: Running back Ben Tate was active for his first game in a Vikings uniform but was one of two players on the Vikings' active roster not to see the field on Sunday (Christian Ponder was the other). Joe Banyard got his first NFL carries instead, running five times for 26 yards in Matt Asiata's absence. "I think Banyard had the hot hand at the time," coach Mike Zimmer said.
Loadholt to have MRI: Right tackle Phil Loadholt will have an MRI on his shoulder after getting injured in the fourth quarter, Zimmer said. Mike Harris took over for Loadholt, who didn't want to discuss his injury after the game.
MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 24-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium:
What it means: The Vikings can effectively put away any flickering hopes of a late hot streak to make a playoff run. They dropped to 4-7 with the loss, which was their fourth in as many division games this season, on a day when their defense did well to contain Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings can point to familiar culprits in the loss -- they were flagged seven times for 77 yards (with three penalties for 35 yards on Matt Kalil), and they converted just 5 of 13 third-down attempts.
Bridgewater misfiring: Teddy Bridgewater was at his best late in the game, when the Vikings had to cover 79 yards in 13 plays to get within a field goal, but he missed too many throws early in the game, firing too high for Jarius Wright, overthrowing Charles Johnson deep and tossing an interception that was overturned when Micah Hyde was flagged for illegal contact. Through three quarters, Bridgewater had connected on just 13 of his 27 passes for 141 yards, before posting 69 on the Vikings' final TD drive.
Lacy burns Vikings again: Eddie Lacy's only 100-yard game of the season before Sunday came on Oct. 2, when he ran for 103 yards on 13 carries in the Packers' win over the Vikings at Lambeau Field. It was a more workmanlike day for Lacy this time -- he carried more than 20 times for the first time this season, and scored a pair of touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) before helping the Packers salt away the victory. He finished with 25 carries for 125 yards, and in four games against the Vikings, he has six TDs.
Game ball: Cornerback Xavier Rhodes was a major factor in the Vikings' ability to slow down Rodgers; he spent much of the day lined up on Jordy Nelson, and the Packers weren't able to hit the deep shots to Nelson they've used so often this season. Nelson's longest catch of the day was 14 yards as Rhodes' physical play helped throw off his timing with Rodgers.
What's next: The Vikings (4-7) continue their three-game homestand next Sunday at noon against the Carolina Panthers.
Floyd, who didn't practice Thursday or Friday after banging knees with another player during practice, is among the Vikings' inactives for Sunday's game. Rookie Shamar Stephen will start in his place at defensive tackle, though the Vikings are likely to use a rotation of Stephen, Tom Johnson and Linval Joseph. Floyd, however, has played some of his best football in recent weeks, and his absence will likely be felt as the Vikings try to slow down Packers running back Eddie Lacy, who ran for 105 yards when the teams last met Oct. 2.
Running back Ben Tate will be active for the Vikings after the team claimed him off waivers last week; Tate could take part of Matt Asiata's role in goal-line and passing situations, with Asiata out with a concussion. Wide receivers Greg Jennings and Jarius Wright are also active after being listed as questionable with rib and hamstring injuries, respectively.
Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives:
@GoesslingESPN: Good morning, everyone. We'll get right into it with the 'A' topic: Peterson's future in Minnesota. My sense of it has been that Peterson will play somewhere else next year -- I think there's a feeling in some corners of the organization (and possibly in Peterson's mind) that it's time to move on -- but that said, here are the reasons the Vikings could decide to bring Peterson back: They'd be getting a running back who's fresh (if his suspension is upheld, he'll have been tackled a total of 21 times this year), and they know better than anybody what Peterson can do when he's out to prove something (see: 2012). Coaches and players support him, and if emotions cool over time, Peterson could return to be a force both on and off the field. The hangup in all that, though, could be his contract. I can't see the Vikings paying a 30-year-old running back $13 million in 2015, and if Peterson is going to play for less money, he might be more inclined to do it elsewhere. We'll see, though. It'll unquestionably be the top storyline of the offseason.
Will the Vikings Deploy more Double A gap pressure on Sunday, if so where does that expose the defense? #VikingsMail— Michael Tarp (@MikeyTarp) November 20, 2014
@GoesslingESPN: The Vikings didn't blitz Aaron Rodgers much the last time they faced him, and there's an inherent danger in bringing extra pressure after him; Rodgers has the fifth-best QBR in the league against the blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and while the Vikings' double-A gap blitz works well in part because it doesn't expose major holes in coverage, Rodgers could find room to work on quick throws over the middle. Even if the Vikings don't use it much on Sunday, though, we'll undoubtedly see the look; they like to put Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway on either side of the center, even though they'll often drop one or both players into coverage and rarely send more than five rushers. It can confuse protection schemes, and open up space for edge rushers if teams adjust their protection to block down on inside rushers.
@GoesslingESPN: The Vikings contend it can; they feel like Teddy Bridgewater throws the deep ball well enough to succeed in the NFL, and they say he hits downfield throws in practice. There are a few things that need to be fixed, though. First, the Vikings need to protect Bridgewater better; he won't have time to work downfield if he's evading pass-rushers within a couple seconds. They also need their receivers to do a better job of gaining separation, and lastly, Bridgewater's downfield accuracy needs to improve. He's still learning to trust himself on deep throws, and there have been too many times where he's not giving himself a split-second to set his feet and put the ball where it needs to be. The Vikings, though, wouldn't have put Bridgewater in Norv Turner's offense if they didn't think he could consistently hit throws of 15 yards or longer, and they're counting on him figuring it out in time.
@GoesslingESPN: I'll close by answering these two together, since they hit similar themes. As for the position upgrade, the obvious answer is that better play from the quarterback and left tackle spots would help the Vikings the most. But I don't think that's what you're getting at, since the Vikings plan to solve those problems with development (in Bridgewater's case) or a return to a previous level of play (in Matt Kalil's case). In terms of where the Vikings could realistically upgrade their personnel to help the roster, I'd probably say safety or left guard. If the Vikings had a really good safety next to Harrison Smith, they could be even more flexible on defense, and could conceivably stay in base packages more often. That's a big part of what helped turn Seattle's defense into a dominant unit, and the Vikings would like to be able to do that with their safeties, as well. And as much criticism as Kalil has taken this year, Charlie Johnson has been a major concern in pass protection, as well. David Yankey isn't strong enough yet to play in the NFL, but he could push Johnson for time next year.
As for the position that will look the most different on defense next year, I'd also suggest linebacker; the Vikings need to find a long-term answer in the middle, and Chad Greenway's future is in some doubt. Greenway's had a rebound year this season, in my opinion, but he'll be 32 next year and is due to count $8.8 million against the cap. He's certainly a candidate for another contract restructuring, but the Vikings might be inclined to see if Gerald Hodges is the future answer at weakside linebacker. My guess is Greenway plays one more season in Minnesota on a reduced deal, but even if he's back, the linebacker group could have a different look.
That'll do it for this week. Thanks for the great questions, everyone. Enjoy your Saturday, and we'll talk to you from TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Of the four, Floyd would seem like the biggest unknown. The defensive tackle did not practice Friday after banging knees with another player during Wednesday's practice. He said a MRI showed no damage to his knee, but the fact he did not participate on Thursday or Friday -- and had crutches next to his locker both of those days -- leaves his status in some doubt.
"It's in Coach [Mike Zimmer]'s hands," Floyd said. "I'll go as he goes."
Kalil got a day off on Friday, with what Zimmer called a "minor aggravation" to his knee. Zimmer said Kalil has been dealing with the issue for a while, and gave him a day to rest it on Friday. The left tackle said he's planning to play Sunday.
Jennings and Wright also seem likely to play; Jennings hurt his ribs on Sunday and Wright strained his hamstring, but both receivers practiced in full on Sunday.
Running back Matt Asiata, however, won't play on Sunday after sustaining a concussion last week. That could mean a larger role for Ben Tate, whom the Vikings claimed off waivers from Cleveland on Wednesday.
"He's catching on quick," Zimmer said. "He's got some explosiveness hitting the hole. Obviously he's a big-bodied guy. He's done a good job in protection so far, so we'll see how it goes."
"Your offense has got to play just as well as their offense. Your defense has to play as well as their defense," Gray said. "And then, you can't turn the ball over. And hopefully you get some turnovers, and then you get the upper hand. You can't give them the upper hand, because they've got a good quarterback."
The Minnesota Vikings' best defense against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday might be an offense that can hold the ball and take a lead, keeping Rodgers on the sideline, minimizing the role of running back Eddie Lacy and allowing pass rushers to come after Rodgers when he is on the field. But that's a tall task for an offense that's 22nd in the league in time of possession, and even the most recent team to beat the Packers -- the New Orleans Saints -- did so with the help of two deflected interceptions, as Gray admits.
That, too, is easier said than done. Rodgers has been the league's best deep passer this season, completing 14 of his 27 throws that traveled at least 20 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, those throws have covered 652 yards. Eight have gone for touchdowns, none have been intercepted and Rodgers' 24.15-yard average on such throws is the best in the league by nearly six yards.
The 66-yard shot he hit to Jordy Nelson on Oct. 2 put the Packers ahead 14-0, and while Rodgers only attempted two more deep balls the rest of the night, "one is too many," safety Harrison Smith said.
On the deep ball to Nelson, Rodgers faked a handoff to Lacy while Nelson cleared Captain Munnerlyn in zone coverage, stemming to a corner route before breaking back inside on Smith, catching a 55-yard throw from Rodgers and jogging into the end zone.
"That's the thing that any safety has to understand: You've got to respect him, especially when they put guys close to the core, and they're trying to protect all the edges," Gray said. "It's a two-man route, and they run it every week. If you bite on a '7' [corner] route, he runs a post. You stem on the post, he runs a '7.' He's got the option of both worlds."
Rodgers has only tried six passes of 20 yards or more when the Packers have trailed by at least seven points this season; he's taken 17 when Green Bay is ahead. It goes back to Gray's belief that beating Rodgers is a total team effort, but if Green Bay gets ahead on Sunday, the Vikings have to be ready for Rodgers to let it fly.
"If he can go down and beat you with a 15-play drive going 80 yards, that's one thing," Gray said. "But 80 yards on one play, that's no good in the NFL."
Coach Mike Zimmer has said Patterson needs to be more consistent with his route-running, and pointed out how much Patterson still needs to develop when he was asked on Monday whether he was disappointed with the second-year receiver's performance.
"(My numbers) been disappointing and I know I’m letting a lot of people down," Patterson said. "It’s tough. It’s very tough out here, man. It’s a struggle sometimes. Offensively, and me, just got to find that groove and just get it going."
Patterson caught 45 passes last season, but 29 of those were on passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats and Information. This season, with fewer plays designed around low-risk ways to get the ball in his hands, Patterson has just 28 catches on 59 targets, for 332 yards and only one receiving touchdown. Last week against Chicago, he caught two passes for 24 yards.
"It don’t matter what the defenses do,” he said. "This is my job. I need to find a way to get open."
As Zimmer pointed out this week, Patterson is only three years removed from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College; he played one year at Tennessee before heading to the NFL, and the Vikings' coaching change means he's learning his third offensive system in as many years. That is certainly a contributing factor to Patterson's sluggish development this season, and as the receiver said, it's turned 2014 into a year where "I'm not having as much fun.
"Coach Zimmer is right: I’ve been in three different offenses in three years. It’s a lot of learning," Patterson said. "At the end of the day, this is my job. This is something I need to just focus on, just this main job. And whatever Coach Zimmer says is right. Even though I probably won’t think it’s right, he’s the head coach and whatever he says goes."
When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis TV: Fox
The last time the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers faced each other, the Packers took a 28-0 lead at halftime on a rainy Thursday night at Lambeau Field.
Since then, the Packers have had halftime leads of 24 points or more in three of their four games. The Vikings, who faced the Packers without rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater last time, will have the rookie on the field on Sunday as they try to slow down the league's hottest team at TCF Bank Stadium.
ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky preview Sunday's matchup:
Goessling: Rob, it seems like the decision to move Clay Matthews to inside linebacker on a part-time basis has paid dividends in the past few weeks. What has that done for the Packers' defense, and do you expect they will keep Matthews inside?
Demovsky: Ben, they'll keep him there until they find another playmaker they can put in the middle of the defense, which means he'll stay there the rest of this season. They would have loved to have gotten a guy like C.J. Mosley of Alabama in the draft last year, but he was gone by the time they picked at No. 21 in the first round. So after trying three different inside linebackers -- Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington -- at the spot next to A.J. Hawk, they more or less had no choice but to find someone more athletic to play there. And that guy was Matthews. It's saved their run defense. The interesting thing is how defensive coordinator Dom Capers has used Matthews in other spots as a pass-rusher. He still played Matthews some at his old outside linebacker spot last week against the Eagles, but then he also lined him up even wider at the end of a five-man front, where Matthews was essentially outside of the outside linebacker.
We all know what kind of impact Adrian Peterson could have made on the field, but how much has his situation off the field impacted the Vikings' season, and how has first-year coach Mike Zimmer handled it? Can they finally put it behind them after this week's ruling?
Goessling: If there's one silver lining for the Vikings, it might be what you just mentioned. Captain Munnerlyn said as much on Tuesday when I talked to him about the ruling; he said the Vikings now at least know Peterson's "not coming through that door," and they can focus on the players they have on the roster. I think the Vikings have done a fairly good job of blocking out the Peterson issue, but it's probably easier to compartmentalize it when they know he's done for the year, in all likelihood. Players almost universally wanted him back, but after the NFL dragged its heels following Peterson's plea deal, there was a growing sense among them that it wasn't going to come to fruition. As Munnerlyn put it, "I don't think the organization is going to let that happen or NFL let that happen."
It's interesting to look at the stats and see that the three teams to beat the Packers this season are the three teams that blitzed Aaron Rodgers the least. Is the key to beating Rodgers still pressuring him with four guys? What avenue can the Vikings take to slow him down?
Demovsky: Rodgers has proved it time and again that if you blitz him, he'll make you pay. Part of the reason is his ability to get rid of the ball so quickly. Part of the reason is he's so good at recognizing where the blitz comes before it even happens. And then there's his ability to use his feet to avoid rushers, and once he gets out of the pocket, his receivers know how to run the scramble drill. And now that the offensive line is protecting better than ever, it's even more difficult to get to Rodgers. The teams that have had the most success against Rodgers are the ones that can pressure with four and leave both safeties back in coverage. However, if you do that, you're vulnerable to Eddie Lacy and the running game.
The Packers didn't get to see Bridgewater in the first meeting. What will they see when they put the film on to prepare for him this week?
Goessling: They'll see a quarterback who's very much a work in progress. Bridgewater is coming off one of his worst games of the season, against the defense that Rodgers shredded the week before. He's looked too tentative at times, and is still adjusting to the differences of the game at the NFL level, where cornerbacks are better and pass-rushers more disruptive. Bridgewater has done a good job of limiting turnovers, he's shown a knack for being able to step up in the pocket and he's able to extend plays with his feet, but he needs to be more accurate and more decisive. It hasn't helped that he hasn't had Peterson. Cordarrelle Patterson is still learning the finer points of the wide receiver position, Greg Jennings (as you know) is a guy who needs a good quarterback to excel, and the offensive line has been an issue all season. Bridgewater will probably be better for all the struggles he's faced this season, but it's been a rough stretch for him as a rookie.
What do you think is the ceiling for this Packers team? They're playing as well as any team in the league right now; do you see them rounding into contending form, or might they be peaking too early?
Demovsky: I don't think they're peaking too early because they've won every game at home, whether it was early in the season and now. What they have to do is show they can beat a good team on the road and shut down a great quarterback. If they do that, then maybe you'll be able to say they have a championship-caliber defense. So far, they've won games when they've gotten takeaways. That formula works against lesser teams, but the great quarterbacks don't typically turn the ball over, so they have to find other ways.
The Packers have been protecting Rodgers well of late. He's commented after several games that he's barely been touched. Meanwhile, the Vikings got very little pressure on Jay Cutler last Sunday. How can they get any pressure on Rodgers this time around?
Goessling: As we've talked about, it probably won't happen with blitzes. The Vikings didn't bring much extra pressure after Rodgers the first time, and they know the risks of trying to heat him up with blitzes. The good news for the Vikings is, Everson Griffen has been on quite a roll. He didn't have a sack last Sunday, but he's got nine for the season, and his quickness off the edge has really helped him develop into a good pass-rusher, particularly in the past few weeks. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd has also been playing well, and Tom Johnson has proved to be a nice pickup as a slippery pass-rusher in nickel situations. It's likely we'll see Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway on the Vikings' double-A gap blitz a few times, but in the games where the Vikings have rushed especially well, they've done it as a team. Zimmer is big on preaching pass-rush discipline, where players choke off escape lanes for the quarterback and eventually take him down as they collapse the pocket as a group. The Vikings were struggling to do it well when they saw the Packers last, and after a poor week against the Bears, they'll have to get back on track with it to get to Rodgers this week.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The notion of a running back committee has been foreign in these parts since 2007, when Adrian Peterson burst into the NFL by breaking the single-game rushing record and carrying 238 times as a rookie. After Peterson's rookie year, the Minnesota Vikings had just one game before this season in which they'd given two running backs 10-plus carries on the same day. That came on Dec. 24, 2011, when Peterson tore his ACL.
But Peterson's absence for most of the season has forced the Vikings to return to the running back committee, staple of the modern ground game and scourge of fantasy football owners everywhere. The Vikings have given both Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon double-digit carries in two of their three wins without Peterson, using Asiata on 47.3 percent of their offensive snaps and McKinnon on 44.7 percent this season. Now, they'll add to the mix former Cleveland Browns running back Ben Tate, whom they claimed off waivers on Tuesday after Tate was released on Monday.
Tate expressed some displeasure with the Browns' three-back arrangement earlier this month, and Browns coach Mike Pettine said he eventually gave more carries to Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West than Tate because the young running backs were more explosive. Tate could have to coexist in a similar setup in Minnesota, though he could find some early opportunities this week with Asiata currently out because of a concussion. McKinnon -- who leads the Vikings with 98 carries this season -- also did not practice on Wednesday because of a lower-back injury, but the rookie has played with the ailment for several weeks. He carried only eight times for 38 yards on Sunday, though, and appeared to miss some chances for bigger runs.
The Vikings have mostly used Asiata in goal-line and passing situations, and if he's at risk of not playing Sunday with a concussion, the Vikings might be looking for another back who can be a between-the-tackles complement to McKinnon. Tate showed good speed coming out of Auburn (he ran a 4.43 40 at the combine in 2011), and gained 942 yards on 175 carries as a rookie, but has seen his yards per carry drop since then and was averaging only 3.1 yards per rush in Cleveland.
Still, he's a sturdy runner who caught 34 passes last season and could fill Asiata's role if needed (though it should be noted that Tate fumbled once every 45.25 carries last season, the third-worst fumble rate among qualifying running backs). He's another addition to the group for the Vikings -- and that group, it appears, will be what the Vikings have to operate their running game with for now.
"It just lets you know he's going to have confidence in himself and confidence in his receivers," Robinson said. "You have to make plays. They've done some great things there recently, but we feel we can play with this team."
It was evident coach Mike Zimmer had preached that message to his players on Wednesday, as many as there were talking about the five punts they forced in the first half of an Oct. 2 game that got out of hand thanks to two Christian Ponder interceptions. But the Packers, who beat the Vikings 42-10 at Lambeau Field last month, come to TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday having scored 108 points in their last two games. And after he gave up three touchdowns on Sunday against the Chicago Bears, Robinson knows he'll have to be ready to go against Rodgers on Sunday.
The 5-foot-10 cornerback was at a disadvantage against Chicago's pair of big receivers (Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall) on Sunday, but he refused to pin Sunday's game on the height difference, even though he appeared to be in good position on a number of Jay Cutler's throws.
After watching the film of the Bears game, Robinson said there was more he could have done against Jeffery and Marshall. "You can't change (the height), but you can change different things, as far as your technique," Robinson said. "(It's) point of contact, driving on routes faster, recognizing things. They ran everything we expected them to run. There were only three plays in the entire game we didn't expect."
The third-year cornerback has made strides in his third season, but was targeted 15 times against the Bears. He'll try to use what he learned from that game to prepare for Rodgers, and the times he sees Nelson, on Sunday.
"It wasn't all jump balls. It wasn't all about height," Robinson said. "I don't blame my height for them catching passes. I blame me not doing my job. I can do my job against those types of receivers. I've been 5-foot-10 all my life. I can't expect to grow a couple inches every time I play tall receivers. What I can do is play my technique and keep playing."
Coach Mike Zimmer addressed the Peterson situation with the team on Wednesday morning, cornerback Josh Robinson said, and as long as the Vikings have been without Peterson -- they will play their 10th game without the running back on Sunday -- Zimmer seemed unconcerned with the situation sapping the Vikings' focus.
"This team has been through a lot of adversity this year," Zimmer said. "I think they've stayed focused pretty well. I think we just keep pounding the message about what we're trying to do here, and what we're trying to accomplish, as far as what kind of football team, what kind of organization we want to have. The overriding message just keeps going on and on."
Zimmer would not say whether he had talked to Peterson since news broke of his suspension, and it remains to be seen whether the coach and the running back will work together again. Peterson will be 30 in March, and is scheduled to make $13 million in 2015. His suspension will last at least the rest of the season, and he will not be eligible for reinstatement until April 15, 2015 -- more than a month after the start of free agency and around the time the Vikings would begin offseason workouts.
Peterson's teammates said they hoped the running back would be back in Minnesota next season, but in the meantime, the Vikings are trying to turn their focus to Green Bay. To that end, Zimmer said, watching film of the Vikings' upcoming opponent had a sobering effect.
"When they watch the Packers, and the things they do offensively, and the things they do defensively -- scoring and returning punts -- it gets your attention pretty quick," Zimmer said.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Let's say you're a Minnesota Vikings fan hoping for an opportunity to see Adrian Peterson play for your favorite team again. The news that arbitrator Shyam Das denied Peterson's appeal for reinstatement from the commissioner's exempt list means you have to root for these two things:
- A prompt agreement between the NFL and NFLPA that a neutral arbitrator, not commissioner Roger Goodell, will hear Peterson's appeal of the suspension Goodell handed down on Tuesday.
- The arbitrator ruling in Peterson's favor, again in a prompt manner.
Short of those things happening, you should probably get ready for the dawn of a post-Peterson era in Minnesota.
If the Vikings were unsure about what to do with Peterson should he be reinstated this season, the NFL essentially removed that burden from their shoulders. The league also effectively opened a path by which the team can move on from Peterson quietly, with financial justification and enough time to reconfigure the direction of its offense without him. The Vikings have done some of that work already, but if Peterson's suspension is upheld, he wouldn't be eligible for reinstatement until two weeks before the draft. The Vikings will be well into their offseason roster construction process by that point, and it makes more sense for them to chart a different path forward than it does to go out on a limb and assume he'll return.
Peterson likely will have to take a pay cut to play again, regardless of where he ends up. It's easier to imagine him making a fresh start in another city than it is to see him coming back to the Vikings under a restructured deal, on top of whatever strain this season has put on his relationship with the team.
Short of Peterson running the legal gantlet in time to get back on the field this season, his time in Minnesota appears to be nearing a surprising end. It's dizzying to think about just how quickly things have changed for Peterson, who has been one of the most brilliant talents and beloved players in team history. But without some impressive legal gymnastics, the running back won't be on the field again this season.
Stunning as it seems, his goodbye to Minnesota doesn't appear to be far off.
The Vikings have typically been a sound tackling team during their first season in Mike Zimmer's defense, but they had what might have been their worst tackling day of the year in a loss to the Bears on Sunday. Considering the running back the Vikings will have to bring down this week against the Green Bay Packers, they'll have to be better to avoid a reprise of some bad memories.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings missed a season-high 13 tackles on Sunday. Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr was credited with five in what was one of the toughest days of his rookie season. Running back Matt Forte shook off Barr's arm-tackle attempt on a 30-yard screen in the first quarter, and Barr was the first of four Vikings to miss on Forte's 32-yard run at the end of the third quarter.
There's no magic formula for the Vikings to improve their tackling; it's a matter of players being in the right spots, taking good angles and wrapping up ball carriers. Barr appeared to overrun several plays against the Bears and paid for it against the elusive Forte. Sunday, however, brings a date with Packers battering ram Eddie Lacy, who is sixth in the league with 2.23 yards after contact per carry, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Lacy rumbled for 105 yards on 13 carries in the Packers' 42-10 win over the Vikings on Oct. 2, and keeping him from gaining extra yards will be an important task for the Vikings.
For the third time this season, the Vikings kept Cordarrelle Patterson on the bench for their first offensive snap. In the previous two instances -- against New Orleans and Buffalo -- the Vikings were in their '22' personnel (two running backs, two tight ends, one wide receiver), which usually employs Adam Thielen as a blocking wideout. That wasn't what happened on Sunday. The Vikings began the game in what I'd consider to be their base offensive package -- '12' personnel, or one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers -- but Jarius Wright was on the field with Greg Jennings instead of Patterson.
Zimmer has talked at several different points about Patterson's need to be a more consistent, detailed route-runner, and it's clear from how the Vikings used him when they had a healthy complement of receivers that they're having to massage his role in the offense somewhat. In our bye-week Q&A with Zimmer, he said Patterson is doing plenty of good things in practice, but it hasn't carried over to the games quite yet, at least not in a way that allows Patterson to be a consistent option for Teddy Bridgewater at split end.
Remember, when the Vikings got Patterson the ball last year, they were often running plays with the express purpose of getting him the ball; 29 of his 45 catches were on balls thrown no more than 5 yards down the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information. What's more, Patterson was targeted on 27.2 percent of the routes he ran last season. Only 12 receivers were targeted more frequently on their routes, and Patterson ranked ahead of blue-chip wideouts like Dez Bryant, Josh Gordon and Alshon Jeffery.
This year, the Vikings aren't manufacturing as many touches for Patterson; he's only been targeted on 17.9 percent of his routes, and only 13 of his 28 catches are on short passes. He's being asked to line up as a traditional split end and get the ball through more traditional means -- beating his man and getting open for Bridgewater. That means crisper, more consistent route-running, better chemistry with a quarterback and an ability to adjust routes based on certain coverages, and it's here where it's useful to remember how little football Patterson has played. He's three years removed from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, and had just one year at Tennessee before the Vikings drafted him.
"He does some very, very good things and then some things that you don't like as much. I don't think disappointed is the right word. I think youth might be right word," Zimmer said. "Sometimes it takes time with young guys. I believe that's the case with him. I believe that he's going to be a really good player, but everybody is impatient, including me, and I'm sure he is, too."
Until then, that means days like Sunday, when Patterson didn't start and caught two passes for 24 yards, are going to be more common than perhaps the Vikings would like. Patterson is being integrated into the offense as more of an all-around receiver. The fact his numbers aren't there yet is a reflection of how much he still has to learn.