NFC North: Adrian Peterson

Vikings vs. Saints preview

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
It has been a turbulent start to the 2014 season, to say the least, for both the Minnesota Vikings (1-1) and New Orleans Saints (0-2) as they head toward their Week 3 matchup in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Minnesota’s issues run much deeper than football. Star running back Adrian Peterson has been indicted on a felony child-abuse charge in Texas; on Wednesday, the Vikings put Peterson on their exempt list, barring him from games and practices.

The Vikings deactivated Peterson for their Week 2 game, a 30-7 loss at home to the New England Patriots.

The Saints, meanwhile, are hoping to use their home opener to rally back from two stunning, last-second losses at Atlanta and Cleveland.

ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett and ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling discuss this week's matchup:

Triplett: How much did the Vikings miss Peterson on the field last Sunday? And how do they try to fill that void this week?

Goessling: Against a Patriots team that appeared vulnerable against the run, they missed Peterson considerably. He didn't have a great first game of the season in St. Louis, but a large part of what Peterson brings to the offense, even when he's not being terribly productive, is the number of looks he opens up for others simply by the attention he commands from defenses.

Matt Asiata caught a touchdown pass last week and is a decent between-the-tackles runner. They also like rookie Jerick McKinnon, though they haven't gotten him involved in the offense yet. But no matter what the Vikings do, they're not going to be able to replace Peterson. They have some good weapons in their passing game, and they'll have to make them work. Without Peterson, though, the Vikings' offense looks a lot less intimidating.

The Saints will be without running back Mark Ingram. How will that change their offense this weekend?

Triplett: It's basically the exact opposite of what you just described. Ingram has been off to a fantastic start -- probably playing the best of his career. But he's also more replaceable than Peterson because the Saints have such good depth at running back. Veteran Pierre Thomas and second-year pro Khiry Robinson are both off to good starts this season as well. And they're more than capable of increasing their workload.

Most important, the entire Saints run game has been thriving since late last season, which has helped all three of their backs. The Saints are tied for fifth in the NFL with 156.5 rushing yards per game, and they’re ranked second with 5.7 yards per carry. Normally those numbers translate to victories.

What other parts of Minnesota's offense will the Saints need to prepare for? It looks like Cordarrelle Patterson has given the Vikings a new dimension. And can Matt Cassel match points with Drew Brees if needed?

Goessling: You're right about Patterson adding some new wrinkles to the Vikings' offense. He has taken the baton from Percy Harvin, in the sense that the Vikings can use him out of the backfield, get the ball to him on screens and employ him as a kick returner. The one area where Patterson still needs to improve, actually, is as a receiver. He struggled mightily last week while trying to get separation from press coverage, and while his route-running has improved, he's still learning how to be a reliable option for Cassel.

As for Cassel's ability to match points with Brees ... boy, I don't know. The Vikings had trouble protecting him last week, and he threw a couple of bad interceptions when he wasn't able to look off defenders. If it turned into that kind of game, I'd be a little worried about the Vikings' ability to keep up.

One of the ways the Saints' offense could get rolling, obviously, is Jimmy Graham. Is there any recipe to slowing him down right now? What would your advice be to the Vikings about how to cover him?

Triplett: Well, don't ask the Browns. They tried a little bit of everything last week, including Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden and corner Buster Skrine at times. And Graham just exploited the size mismatch.

When teams have had success against Graham, they had to devote more than one resource. The Patriots pressed him with corner Aqib Talib and played zone behind him; the Seahawks bracketed him, often using Earl Thomas as a spy; and the Eagles chipped him with defensive ends off the line. The problem, though, is that exposes teams to all of the Saints' other weapons, including their much-improved run game and dynamic new receiver Brandin Cooks. It's a pick-your-poison offense that's almost immune to double-teams.

So where is the Vikings' defense most vulnerable?

Goessling: Especially against a team that can spread them out like the Saints can, I'd have to say it's the secondary. Xavier Rhodes is the top cornerback, but he was playing with a groin injury last week, gave up four catches and got flagged three times. Captain Munnerlyn gave up a touchdown, and the secondary depth is a concern. As you mentioned, the process of stopping Graham is a group effort, and the Saints have so many options that the Vikings could have trouble keeping up, especially if they have as much trouble getting to Brees as they did to Tom Brady last week.

Speaking of defensive vulnerabilities, the Saints' defense looks to have taken a significant step back in the first two weeks of the season. First, where has the pass rush gone, and second, do you see a quick fix for the defensive issues?

Triplett: I definitely expect vast improvement by the Saints' defense. The talent is there, from pass-rushers Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette and Akiem Hicks to middle linebacker Curtis Lofton to No. 1 cornerback Keenan Lewis and safeties Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro. All have actually played well this season. But the Saints were done in by things such as missed tackles in Week 1 and blown assignments and penalties in Week 2. All extremely frustrating -- but correctable -- issues.

The biggest concern is the depth at cornerback. The Saints might have to make a change at the No. 2 cornerback spot, where teams have been picking on Patrick Robinson. A more consistent pass rush would certainly help in that department as well.

PITTSBURGH -- Recent player arrests and -- the NFL's response to ones related to domestic abuse and child abuse -- has led to an avalanche of criticism of the billion-dollar league.

But Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel defended the NFL and said the actions of a few are not representative of most of the players.

"There is a lot of negativity out right now in the league but I hang my hat on every day knowing there are a lot of good guys in this game, too," Keisel said on Monday. "There's a lot of guys that do the right thing, that act the right way, that are living productive and charitable lives. Negative news sells. It's the world we live in."

Negative news has engulfed the NFL since last Monday when TMZ released a video of Ray Rice punching his then fiancÚ and knocking her out in an Atlantic City, New Jersey, hotel elevator.

Rice was released by the Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL. But an investigation has been commissioned to review the NFL's conduct in the Rice case.

Its handling of abuse cases has also been questioned following a bench conviction of Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy for assaulting his former girlfriend. Hardy played in Carolina's season opener but was deactivated Sunday as was Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson following his arrest late last week for child abuse.

The Vikings have said Peterson will play this week. Hardy is practicing this week, though his status for a Sunday night game against the Steelers has not been decided.

Steelers safety Troy Polamalu shrugged off a question about what impact the negative publicity has had on the NFL.

"To be honest, I don't pay attention to any (media coverage) whether it's good or bad," the eight-time Pro Bowler said. "I'm not concerned with the image of the league. That's what (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell's concern is and the league owners' concern is. I am concerned with the image of this team and this organization and our program and whether we win or not."

Keisel and Polamalu are two of the Steelers' leaders and among their players who are most active in the community.

Both are past Steelers' winners of the Walter Payton Award, which recognizes players for their charitable contributions.

"There's a lot of guys in this locker room and locker rooms throughout the league that try and do the right thing," Keisel said. "That's really all I think about is making a positive impact when I can and being a good productive player at the same time."

The Film Don't Lie: Vikings

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
A weekly look at what the Vikings must fix:

Minnesota allowed six sacks Sunday afternoon in a game where the New England Patriots moved Chandler Jones from a 3-4 outside linebacker position to a 4-3 defensive end spot, putting him in position to work against left tackle Matt Kalil for a large portion of the game. Kalil gave up two sacks -- one to Jones on a speed rush, and one to linebacker Dont'a Hightower on a blitz.

Even though the Vikings will face a New Orleans Saints team that has just two sacks this season, they'll be returning to a dome, where noise figures to be a factor in the Saints' home opener. If the Vikings want to avoid a second consecutive loss and get their offense in order after a 30-7 defeat on Sunday, they'll have to do a better job protecting Matt Cassel.

One thing to keep in mind is how much more help the Vikings were able to give Kalil in Week 1 than they did in Week 2 through the use of either tight end Rhett Ellison or Kyle Rudolph in a blocking role. Part of that, of course, was due to the score of the game against the Patriots and the fact the Vikings had to spend much more time in three-receiver sets as they tried to rally than they did in Week 1. But if the Vikings find themselves in that situation again, they have to be able to trust their left tackle to handle his man. It's worth noting, too, that Kalil and Charlie Johnson gave up a combined three quarterback hits and six hurries, according to

With Adrian Peterson back this week, the Saints undoubtedly will have more to think about in stopping the Vikings' offense, but if the pass protection isn't better, there's only so much even Peterson can alleviate.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings were driving late in the first half of Sunday's game against the New England Patriots with an opportunity to score before halftime and pull within a touchdown or a field goal. Matt Cassel dropped back on third-and-16 and found Cordarrelle Patterson inside the Patriots' 10, running a corner route between their cornerback and safety.

It was a perfect call to beat the Patriots' coverage, and a connection with Patterson would have put the Vikings on the doorstep of a touchdown with 30 seconds and a timeout remaining. But Cassel's throw led Patterson too close to the sideline and the receiver wasn't able to get both of his feet in bounds. Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones blocked the Vikings' ensuing field goal attempt and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown to put the Patriots up 24-7.

"I had to put it outside away from the safety," Cassel said. "It was a split safety, and over the corner's head. I threw it where I wanted to, and unfortunately we weren't able to complete it in bounds."

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesMatt Cassel's four interceptions were too much to overcome.
Throws like those can extend drives and prevent the 10- or 14-point swing that effectively took the Vikings out of Sunday's game. They can help Cassel bounce back from the interceptions he threw on Sunday, and in the long run, they can help reinforce his hold on the starting quarterback job. But if Cassel can't make them, he might not be able to shake the notion that he has the job only until Teddy Bridgewater is ready.

Cassel will start for the Vikings in New Orleans next week after going 19 of 36 for 202 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions on Sunday, and in reality, the Vikings' decisions at quarterback should -- and probably do -- revolve more around determining the right course of action for Bridgewater than any short-term ramifications. But the Vikings' attempt to get to 2-0 turned sour on a poor performance from Cassel, and with it, the quarterback missed a chance to assert himself, against his former team and without Adrian Peterson by his side to command some of the defense's attention.

"I'm not going to make excuses and say that just because Adrian Peterson wasn't playing today is the reason why we faltered," Cassel said. "There are a number of different reasons, and I will take full responsibility. I've got to take better care of the ball and not give short fields against a good team, and maybe the circumstances will be different."

Chief among Cassel's concerns might be his struggles on shots down the field, which are a key component of offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme and led to three of his interceptions on Sunday. He was 0-of-8 on throws that traveled more than 10 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and is just 1-of-11 with three interceptions on throws that covered 10 or more air yards this season. Cassel is the first quarterback since 2006 to start in both Week 1 and 2 without completing more than one pass 10 or more yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

There were more parties responsible for the Vikings' offensive shortcomings on Sunday than just Cassel. Tight end Kyle Rudolph dropped three passes, wide receiver Greg Jennings had a drop, and the Vikings gave up six sacks.

"Matt's been in this league 10 years," Rudolph said. "He's a professional; he's ready to get back to work. You know, it's not all on Matt by any means. We put ourselves in a lot of really tough situations."

Many teams do, and the good ones have quarterbacks who can get them out of those situations. Most of Cassel's opportunities to do that on Sunday fell by the wayside.

"Today was one game in a 16-game season," Cassel said. "Of course, at times would I have liked to change some outcomes and circumstances? Of course. I think any quarterback in the league would tell you that at times."
MINNEAPOLIS -- On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings begin their two-year tenancy at TCF Bank Stadium, their temporary home before they move into their new stadium at the former site of the Metrodome in 2016.

The architectural drawings of that stadium have prominently featured running back Adrian Peterson, even if there were already signs before Friday that Peterson might not be with the team by the time its $1 billion facility opens. Peterson's age (29), his three-year streak of offseason surgeries and his $14.4 million cap figure in 2014, along three more years left on his deal after this season, suggested he could be on his way out before the Vikings return to downtown Minneapolis. Now there is reason to wonder if the transition could happen sooner, though.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/L.G. Patterson
Peterson will not play in the Vikings' home opener on Sunday after a grand jury indicted him on one count of injuring his son in an act of corporal punishment that Peterson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, said was meant to discipline the boy rather than harm him. Peterson's intentions could be debated in court, and if his case goes to trial, a jury will have to determine whether his actions exceeded the reasonable standard by which Texas law allows corporal punishment. That trial, Montgomery County first assistant district attorney Phil Grant said on Saturday, might not take place until next year. But in the meantime, Peterson's football future sits n the hands of a team that quickly realized it needed to keep the running back off the field two days after the indictment.

General manager Rick Spielman left his options open in an interview with ESPN's Sal Paolantonio on Sunday morning, saying, "We are, as an organization, still in the process of gathering information, and at the end of the weekend we will discuss what we will do going forward. You don’t want to make any knee-jerk reactions. All options are on the table. You can’t take any options off the table because we’re still gathering information.”

Will the Vikings have been able to do enough research to feel comfortable putting Peterson back on the field for next Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints, knowing such a move would essentially look like they gave him a one-game penalty? And then there's the NFL's side of things to consider, especially with the league trying to restore public faith in its personal conduct policy after a week of embarrassing headlines about its handling of Ray Rice's domestic violence case. Though the NFL has typically waited for the legal process to conclude before ruling on player discipline, it reacted in the face of public pressure on Rice, and could see Peterson's case as its first opportunity to prove its commitment to tougher domestic violence penalties.

One way or the other, it seems likely Peterson will have to clear a high standard to get back on the field soon, and even if he does, the Vikings will have to factor his legal issues into their calculations about how much longer they can afford to make a 29-year-old running back their highest-paid player -- the only running back in the league with a cap figure more than $10 million. And though there is a dearth of elite running backs in the league, any team that would think about trading for Peterson would deal with the same questions -- and just four (Jacksonville, the New York Jets, Cleveland and Philadelphia) have enough cap space to absorb his salary.

However things play out with Peterson, it seems more likely than ever that the Vikings will see a preview of their future on Sunday. They'd already planned to convert some of Peterson's carries to screen passes, talked about diversifying their offense and spent a third-round pick on running back Jerick McKinnon. If the Vikings were already in the process of reducing their reliance on Peterson, Sunday's game against the New England Patriots would provide a good measure of their progress.

To be clear, this indictment isn't the end for Peterson. Hardin (who successfully defended Roger Clemens) told ESPN's Pedro Gomez in an email that Peterson will aggressively fight the charge, and in an issue as personal and particular as parenting style, Peterson could have a solid case. But his involvement in such a polarizing issue, so soon after Rice's suspension, is only another potential catalyst in his possible departure from Minnesota. As the Vikings begin their two-year stay at a temporary home on Sunday, it's easier than ever to envision their offense in a state of change, too.
MINNEAPOLIS -- A day after the Minnesota Vikings announced they would deactivate Adrian Peterson for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots, they made a roster move to give themselves some more depth at running back.

The Vikings signed Joe Banyard from their practice squad, ensuring they'll have three healthy halfbacks even without Peterson, who was charged with one count of injury to a child in Montgomery County, Texas, on Friday. The Vikings announced on Friday the 2012 NFL MVP wouldn't play after a grand jury indicted Peterson, finding probable cause that the running back used an unreasonable amount of force in disciplining his son earlier this year.

Banyard was the Vikings' leading rusher in the preseason with 212 yards -- including 111 in the preseason finale -- and spent most of the 2013 season on the Vikings' practice squad after a solid preseason last year. He did play in three regular-season games last season, catching one pass for 11 yards. Banyard will likely back up Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon on Sunday.

To make room for Banyard, the Vikings released fullback Zach Line, who had made the team's 53-man roster for the second consecutive year but missed last Sunday's game in St. Louis with an ankle injury.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The New England Patriots' first outing with their 3-4 defense didn't yield positive results, especially against the run; the Patriots gave up 191 rushing yards to the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, after hoping they had fixed a run defense that allowed 2,145 yards last season.

Though the Minnesota Vikings' own 185-yard rushing total against the St. Louis Rams was helped more by Cordarrelle Patterson's 67-yard touchdown run than by the Vikings' bread-and-butter plays with Adrian Peterson, there could be plenty of room to run against the Patriots on Sunday, too.

"We've seen it before. We see more space out there," guard Brandon Fusco said. "I'll be more out in space, getting to the second level more, running around a little more. I'm fine with that."

Fusco, in particular, saw plenty of action last week, as the Vikings gained 152 of their 185 yards on the right side of the line, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Their new running scheme frequently employs Fusco as a pulling guard, and he was out in front of Peterson on his two biggest runs last week -- a 17-yarder in the first quarter when Fusco was pulling with center John Sullivan, and a 16-yarder in the third quarter, when Fusco and fullback Jerome Felton were leading Peterson.

"(Left guard) Charlie (Johnson) and I are athletic guards, and we're using it to our advantage," Fusco said. "It's something (offensive coordinator) Norv (Turner) likes to do. Sully's out there pulling a little bit, too. It's getting us out in space and hitting the little guys.

"The St. Louis game, there was a play where we're pulling, but they couldn't stop it, so we just kept running it over and over. It seemed like maybe it was a coincidence that I was pulling a lot more than usual, but they couldn't stop the play."

Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt are typically the players behind whom the Vikings run the most, and after seeing the Dolphins push Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork around last week, the Vikings could find room to be aggressive with New England's front, as well.

"Miami did a great job, especially with Wilfork in the middle," Fusco said. "They pushed him around a little bit, and we've just got to be physical with these guys."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Adrian Peterson's disappointment over his own performance last Sunday was mostly mitigated by the fact the Minnesota Vikings beat the St. Louis Rams by four touchdowns on the road. But when he watched the film of his 21-carry, 75-yard day, Peterson didn't leave with a glowing evaluation.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesAdrian Peterson called his performance in Sunday's season opener "mediocre."
"It was kind of mediocre," Peterson said. "I really wasn't pleased in the way that I played. Overall, I really didn't beat myself up too much, because we pretty much blew them out. We got a 'W.' But on a personal level, there were a lot of things I was able to take from this game that I'll be able to adjust and do differently this week."

Peterson wouldn't elaborate on what he planned to change this week, but it appeared on Sunday he was still trying to find his comfort level with the Vikings' new running scheme, which employs more pulling guards and makes greater use of runs designed to hit a certain point of attack, rather than allowing Peterson to find cutback lanes.

The Rams' defense, though, is one of the league's best against the run, and Peterson could find more opportunities this week against a Patriots defense that ranked 30th in the league against the run last season and allowed 191 rushing yards in a loss to Miami in Week 1.

"In the second half, Miami used their no-huddle and kept coming at New England pretty fast and they got some creases and then they started getting some cutbacks," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "Like we’ve all been in games, it just went downhill for New England from there. If you watch that first half, you wouldn’t have thought that was going to happen."

According to ESPN Stats & Information, 11 of Peterson's 21 carries were to the right side of the Vikings' line and he gained 45 yards on those runs. The Dolphins ran to the right side of their line eight times last Sunday, gaining an average of 5.38 yards. If the Vikings are able to throw effectively enough to keep New England from stacking the box against Peterson, there should be plenty of opportunities for the running back on Sunday.

"To see other guys get involved, it's what I've been looking for, for a long time," Peterson said. "It's a breath of fresh air."
ST. LOUIS -- On Thursday night, as Percy Harvin was tearing through an electrifying, nationally televised testament to how many ways he can hurt a defense, the Minnesota Vikings were deep in the process of installing a game plan that would continue to make their fans believe they knew exactly what they were doing when they traded Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks 18 months ago.

The jet sweep the Seahawks dialed up for Harvin in a 36-16 win over the Green Bay Packers? That was in the Vikings' plans for Cordarrelle Patterson too. So was a pitch to Patterson out of a two-back set with Matt Asiata, plenty of work for the receiver at split end and his normal duties as a kickoff return man.

The Vikings believed Patterson had many of the same skills as Harvin -- perhaps not as strong or shifty but taller, with equal top-end speed and maybe even better vision. When they spent three picks to trade up and take Patterson in the first round of the 2013 draft, it was with an eye toward filling the void created by the departure of the talented and temperamental Harvin.

That plan is now in full bloom, and Patterson's performance in the Vikings' 34-6 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday showed again how quickly he is turning into one of the game's unique weapons. He turned the two jet sweeps into 35 yards and romped for another 67 on the pitch in the third quarter, breaking a handful of tackles before he fell into the end zone. Patterson was targeted five times, catching three passes for 26 yards, and ran back two kicks for 48 yards, even though the Rams angled their deep kickoffs in a way that prevented Patterson from breaking free after fielding the ball in the end zone.

All told, he posted 176 all-purpose yards, became the first Vikings receiver to run for more than 100 yards in a game and is the first receiver since the AFL-NFL merger to score rushing touchdowns of 35 yards or more in three consecutive games. Patterson was the most explosive player on the field Sunday, and nearly seven months after the Vikings hired Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator, the second-year receiver is in the hands of a strategist who plans to bring all his talents to bear.

"We always want to get our playmakers the football. So however we can do that -- by throwing it, catching it, handing it -- it doesn't matter," coach Mike Zimmer said. "Our offensive coaches and Norv Turner do an awesome job of understanding where to go and when to take the shots."

Had offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave been bold enough to involve Patterson more early last season, he and the rest of coach Leslie Frazier's staff might have pulled out a couple more close games and saved their jobs. But for Patterson's sake, the change might have been for the best. Turner had already designed 10 plays for the receiver less than a month after he became the Vikings' offensive coordinator, general manager Rick Spielman said at the NFL scouting combine, and as the Vikings push forward with a more aggressive offense, Patterson will be at the center of the attack.

Over time, he could be an even bigger piece of it than running back Adrian Peterson, who remains the focal point of the offense for now but is making more than any running back in the league at age 29. Peterson gained 93 yards Sunday, rushing 21 times for 75 yards against a tough Rams defense, but even the running back marveled at how Patterson was able to outrush him on just three carries.

"It doesn't happen often," Peterson said, "but he is a tremendous talent."

In his second year, Patterson is a rising star, a worthy complement to Peterson and a dynamic successor for Harvin. And at age 23, he doesn't appear to be going anywhere but up.

"I just want the ball in my hands," Patterson said. "When I get the ball, I expect great things."
Observed and heard in the locker room after the Minnesota Vikings' 34-6 victory over St. Louis:
  • Zimmer
    Though they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in London last September -- in what was technically a home game -- the Vikings hadn't won an official road game since Week 16 of the 2012 season. Coach Mike Zimmer put up a sign before the Vikings' first preseason game about what the team needed to do to win on the road this season and mentioned some of the points from that sign in a team meeting Saturday night. "I actually heard a couple of the players talking about it today before we went on," Zimmer said. "I've said it all along: If you play smart football, if you play good techniques and good fundamentals, you can go out in the parking lot and do good. It's more about how you play than where you play."
  • As soon as Adrian Peterson saw fellow running back Matt Asiata lay out a block for Cordarrelle Patterson on his third-quarter run, "I threw my hands up because I knew he had the ability to take it the distance." Patterson's 67-yard run gave him 102 rushing yards for the day and put Peterson in the rare role of the Vikings' second-leading rusher. "It doesn't happen often," Peterson said, "but he's a tremendous talent."
  • Zimmer said players had been waiting to douse him with Gatorade since the Vikings' undefeated preseason, and with a few seconds left in the win Sunday, receivers Greg Jennings and Patterson got him. "[His] first win in Vikings history," Patterson said, "we had to give him a little bath."

Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7

ST. LOUIS -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 34-6 win over the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome:

What it means: The Vikings, who didn't get a win on the road in 2013, started the Mike Zimmer era with a convincing -- although not altogether clean -- victory on the road. Their defense looked markedly improved from the porous unit that allowed more points than any team in the league last season, holding the Rams to just 318 yards -- many of which came after the game had been decided -- and intercepting two passes. The Vikings were penalized seven times for 60 yards on a day filled with flags from Ed Hochuli's crew, and only went 3-for-11 on third downs, but especially for the defense, it was an impressive start to the 2014 season.

Stock watch: Cornerback Josh Robinson's standing didn't seem like it could be much lower in the middle of the preseason, when Zimmer referred to the corner as "that other guy" while he was out nursing a hamstring injury. But the Vikings have praised Robinson's improvement in recent weeks, and Robinson's impressive sideline interception -- in which he undercut a Shaun Hill pass and tapped his toes just before heading out of bounds -- was perhaps the best play on a ball we've seen by a Vikings corner in several years. He also made a nice tackle on Brian Quick's third-down reception in the first quarter, keeping the Rams a yard short of a first down before Greg Zuerlein missed a 50-yard field goal. The Vikings lost Xavier Rhodes to a groin injury, and will have to monitor the second-year player's health, but they'll at least have reason to be encouraged about Robinson's development.

Vikings win sack battle: Heading into the game, there was plenty of concern about how the Vikings' offensive line would hold up against the Rams' front four, which had 53 sacks last season. The group put some pressure on Matt Cassel, especially with the help of a couple of well-timed blitzes, but it was the Vikings' pass pressure that caused the most trouble. Minnesota recorded five sacks on Rams quarterbacks, and a vicious hit from Anthony Barr caused Austin Davis to rush the throw that Harrison Smith intercepted and returned 81 yards for his third career touchdown.

Game ball: It has to go to Cordarrelle Patterson, who became the first Vikings wide receiver to rush for 100 yards, burning the Rams on a couple of jet sweeps in the first half and lining up in the backfield for a 67-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. Patterson finished the day with 102 yards on three carries, outgaining Adrian Peterson by 27 yards on the ground.

What's next: The Vikings (1-0) will play host to the New England Patriots (0-1) in their home opener next Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The first carry of Adrian Peterson's 2013 season saw him break free for a 78-yard touchdown. The first of the 2014 season will come in the building where he recorded the longest run of his career the last time he visited.

The Minnesota Vikings' previous trip to St. Louis came in Week 15 of the 2012 season, in a game the Vikings had to win to keep themselves in the playoff race. Peterson was in the middle of a transcendent stretch, having logged at least 100 yards in his previous seven games and gaining 210 two weeks before in Green Bay. The Rams game, though, turned out to be Peterson's best of the season; he ran for 212 yards on 24 carries, with 82 of them coming on a touchdown run that helped him get the last word over a defense Peterson said had him in a foul mood that day.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota's Adrian Peterson
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesAdrian Peterson had 212 yards, including an 82-yard touchdown run, during his last visit to St. Louis.
"What I do remember about that game is that it's first time in eight years, I've ever talked off to players," Peterson said in a conference call with St. Louis reporters on Wednesday. "Those guys had me so hot; like, I haven't ever been that mad playing football. Those guys were just running to the ball -- I love it, too -- but (they) were just yapping at the mouth. I'm talking about from the defensive front to the second level to the secondary. Those guys were just yapping and they were doing pretty good initially, kind of getting a couple tackles for loss, a couple of three-and-outs. And then when I gunned at them one time, it got real quiet. I'm not going to give you my hint. I hope they come in talking a lot of noise this time, too. I'm excited to play these guys."

Sunday's game should be a good opening test for Peterson against an aggressive Rams defense that was ninth in the league against the run last season while posting 53 sacks. The Rams took down opposing quarterbacks on 10.2 percent of their dropbacks, which was tied for the second-highest rate in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and pressure from the St. Louis front four could make Peterson a safety valve for Matt Cassel, through his new role in the passing game and delayed handoffs designed to take advantage of aggressive fronts.

"I think they do a tremendous job up front creating pressure, making you get the ball out quick, make quick decisions at the quarterback position," Cassel said. "I think it's going to be a big task for us this week to take care of that front and be able to let me get the ball out and I think that these guys will be up for the challenge."

Peterson didn't play at all in the preseason, and has seemed eager to get his first game action in the Vikings' new offense after a long stretch of non-contact work. "He welcomes contact even when he's running and doing those thing," Cassel said. "You can see that he doesn't shy away from it and it's almost the defender's responsibility to get out of the way. I think that that's how he's got to practice and that's how he plays no matter what the situation and that's good because once he gets to the season I think that's why he's ready to go."

He'll have a little extra edge playing against a Rams defense that brought out the best in him last time.

"They have some guys that can get to the ball, to the passer and they run to the ball well," Peterson said. "I know Coach Zimmer would love that type of defense. I'm excited to play those guys."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Here's what we know about Adrian Peterson's phone call with Jerry Jones, based on ESPN senior writer Don Van Natta's story and the running back's statement after the piece was published on Thursday afternoon: Jones was handed a phone in his suite at AT&T Stadium on the night of George Strait's final concert. He talked with Peterson for several minutes, and confirmed to Van Natta after the call that Peterson told him he's interested in playing with the Dallas Cowboys at the end of his time with the Minnesota Vikings.

The point at which Peterson's tenure in Minnesota ends is, mostly, up to the Vikings, who have him under contract through the 2017 season and could release him after next season with just a $2.4 million cap hit. So in the meantime, the main question before us is this: Does a casual conversation between a high-profile player and an opposing team official, expressing mutual admiration and general talk about the possibility of working together at a future date, constitute tampering?

NFL rules say if a team is contacted by a player under contract with another club, "the contacted club must immediately report such contact to the owner or operating head of the club which holds the player's rights." Jones told Van Natta he did not contact the Vikings, has not talked with Peterson since the call and did not consider the exchange to constitute tampering. A precedent established six years ago might support his point.

Back then, of course, the Green Bay Packers filed tampering charges against the Vikings for former coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's contact with Brett Favre while the quarterback was weighing his options during the summer of 2008. Favre eventually decided to play, was traded to the New York Jets and wound up with the Vikings a year later, but the NFL dismissed the Packers' tampering claim on the grounds that neither Favre nor the Vikings were soliciting one another.

Were the Vikings to file tampering charges against the Cowboys, they might have a stronger case to make because of Jones' on-the-record confirmations that Peterson expressed interest in playing for the Cowboys and the owner did not report the conversation to the Vikings. But as far as we know, it's not as though Peterson told Jones to trade for him this season, or Jones promised Peterson a job if he should ever leave Minnesota.

A Vikings official would not comment on whether the team would file a tampering claim against the Cowboys, saying the club would defer to the NFL. Peterson has mused openly about the possibility of playing in Texas before, and his phone call with Jones represents a more direct version of those thoughts. If the NFL were to apply the same standard to this phone call that it did to the Vikings' 2008 talks with Favre, though, the Cowboys might not face repercussions for Jones' decision not to report the conversation to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Lost in the discussion over the Minnesota Vikings' retooled offense -- with its slimmed-down tight end, recently installed starting quarterback and more aggressive passing game -- is the fact the unit has been operating to this point without its most important piece. While the Vikings have played three preseason games, moving the ball effectively with their starting offense, running back Adrian Peterson has watched from the sidelines, biding his time until the stakes are high enough to merit the physical toll contact will take on his 29-year-old body.

[+] EnlargePeterson
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsThe Vikings want to get Adrian Peterson to the edge more often this season.
When the Vikings finally pull Peterson out of the garage Sept. 7 in St. Louis, they'll be inserting him in an offense that will ask the 2012 NFL MVP to handle some different tasks from the ones he's typically performed. The Vikings' desire to use Peterson in the passing game has been well-documented and will probably be the most profound change for him this season, but there also will be a subtle change in the ways they use him when he's carrying the ball.

Peterson has done most of his work between the tackles in recent years, often putting together some of his biggest plays on zone runs that gave the running back a chance to read the defense and cut back against the grain if he saw an opportunity. In 2012, Peterson gained 1,536 of his 2,097 yards inside the tackles, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Some of that production came on power runs, but cutback opportunities off zone blocking have always been a major part of Peterson's game. The Vikings' new offense will still have those plays, but it will have a heavier dose of power running looks, including some outside runs like they've shown in the preseason with guard Charlie Johnson pulling around the right side of the line. On those plays, Peterson will have to display enough patience to let his blockers get set up and follow them to a predetermined point of attack. The Vikings have had some of those runs in their playbook in the past; they'll have more of them this year.

"There's some lateral parts to the run game," running backs coach Kirby Wilson said. "It's a little bit different read for him -- his eyes are probably at a different spot and location than they have been in the past. Any time you're running lateral, there's a degree of patience that comes with it. I think that will help grow his game; he's already got a tremendous package of things he does really well. I think this will just add to it."

The Vikings want to get Peterson on the edge of the field more often, both to maximize his explosiveness and reduce the pounding on his body, and that will inherently put the running back in some new situations. He'll run out of shotgun sets and multiple-receiver formations more often. He'll have to be better in pass protection to stay on the field on third downs, and he'll have to be more reliable catching the ball. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Peterson has dropped 5.5 percent of the passes targeted for him over the last three seasons; that rate is still better than some prominent running backs with similar numbers of targets, such as Marshawn Lynch and Darren McFadden, but it is far higher than the 3.1 percent drop rate from two of the league's best dual-threat backs (Chicago's Matt Forte and Baltimore's Ray Rice).

It's all a significant change for a running back who, for his extraordinary talent, has been more of a specialist than a generalist during his first seven seasons. But Peterson has embraced the offense, saying the scheme is what he's been waiting for his whole career, and added Tuesday that Turner has been "trying to pretty much get me into any type of situation he can in this offense to put the ball in the running back's hands."

Said Wilson: "He's had good days, but there are some days where he's been spectacular in those areas. I'm excited to see what the new and improved Adrian Peterson is going to look like when the opener starts. I think this whole team is excited about what he could bring as a dual-threat player."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Hello from Arrowhead Stadium, where the Minnesota Vikings will kick off their third preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs at 7 p.m. CDT. It's going to be a muggy night -- it's currently 95 degrees outside, and won't dip into the 80s until after 9 p.m. -- so the Vikings' dress rehearsal for the season will be spent in conditions they probably won't face more than once, if at all. Alas, they'll have to manage.

There are no major surprises on the list of players who won't dress for Minnesota on Saturday night -- cornerback Jabari Price is expected to sit out, as are linebackers Gerald Hodges and Brandon Watts, tight end Chase Ford and defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Matt Asiata will again start at running back in place of Adrian Peterson, who isn't expected to play. Fred Evans starts in Joseph's place at nose tackle, and Chris Crocker will again start at safety alongside Harrison Smith.

Peterson, who was away from the team for personal reasons on Wednesday and Thursday, is dressed for the game and going through warmups with the team. He was expected to travel with the team after missing practice, and a picture the Vikings released of their Friday walk-through showed Peterson back with the team, so things appear to be going to plan.

We'll hopefully get some answers tonight about how the Vikings will handle the safety position, how things are shaping up at middle linebacker and whether Teddy Bridgewater has a shot to unseat Matt Cassel at quarterback. Check back later for more from Arrowhead.




Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22