- Ben Goessling, ESPN Staff Writer
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Vikings have been without Adrian Peterson for just eight games in the running back's seven-year career. They won their first two games without him in 2007, but that was when they had Chester Taylor, who had run for 1,216 yards the year before and who posted 844 while sharing carries with Peterson. Since then, the Vikings hadn't won a game without Peterson until two weeks ago, when they scored 48 points on the Philadelphia Eagles despite both Peterson and Toby Gerhart sitting on the bench. Matt Cassel threw for 382 yards that day, hitting Greg Jennings 11 times, and the Vikings had the best offensive day they've ever had without Peterson.
The Vikings have tried to create more balance on offense this season, but Peterson's absence against the Eagles forced them to open up the playbook. The matchup came against a weak pass defense, so the timing was right for the Vikings to lean on their passing game, but the circumstances on Sunday could be similar. Peterson is doubtful with groin and foot injuries, and Gerhart again is out with a strained hamstring. The Detroit Lions have given up the sixth most passing yards in the league, and as stout as the Lions have been against the run -- allowing the fourth fewest yards in the NFL -- the Vikings might have been better off trying to stress the Lions' secondary anyway.
It's not as though the Vikings didn't run the ball two weeks ago with Peterson out. Matt Asiata still got 30 carries, though some of those came as the Vikings were salting away their lead. But it might be easier for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to open up the playbook when he doesn't have to think about funneling things through Peterson. As great as Peterson is, he's the best running back in the league at a time where the game has moved in a different direction. Coach Leslie Frazier has continued to emphasize the run, and has said the Vikings will be built around the run as long as "Adrian is Adrian." But if the Vikings have a new coach next year -- which seems likely -- they could also have a more pass-friendly offensive philosophy.
Sunday, then, could give them another chance to take a look at it. They've got a solid group of receivers, now that Cordarrelle Patterson has emerged and Cassel seems to have unlocked Jennings. Jerome Simpson might not be back, but Jarius Wright has also played well with Cassel at quarterback. If there's something the Vikings can gain out of their season finale, it might be increased confidence in their passing game on a day where they probably won't have Peterson.