EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — In this day and age of high-flying passing attacks, the Minnesota Vikings have been a bit of a throwback in their run-first approach to offense.
So now that the focal point of that offense is lost for the foreseeable future, the season is over, right?
Not so fast.
Adrian Peterson had surgery on Thursday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, a procedure that is expected to keep him out for at least several months with a strong possibility that he misses the rest of the season.
And the Vikings were ranked 28th in the league in offense with the best running back of his era on the field.
“I know everybody is all concerned about we don’t have this or we don’t have that but it’s a team,” coach Mike Zimmer said.
“That’s why we have 53 guys here, so that we can try to win as a team. That’s all I’ve ever done since I’ve been here.”
The Vikings started the season with Super Bowl aspirations, even after quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went down just over a week before the opener with a devastating knee injury.
This week they lost Peterson and starting left tackle Matt Kalil (hip) to long-term injuries, but they remain confident that all is not lost heading into a Week 3 matchup at Carolina.
So here is the formula the Vikings (2-0) will have to follow to survive life without Peterson carrying the offensive load:
RUNNING BACK CREW
Peterson was one of the few true workhorses left at running back in the league. He had 31 carries in the first two weeks, while the rest of the running backs on the roster combined for just 13.
Now the offense will use a running back by committee, with shifty Jerick McKinnon getting the start, thumper Matt Asiata spelling him and the recently signed Ronnie Hillman there for insurance.
While none of those three have anything close to the resume of Peterson, they all bring different things to the table that can help them be effective as a group.
McKinnon is an accomplished receiver out of the backfield, an area that Peterson never mastered.
Asiata hits the holes quick and never dances in the backfield like Peterson would do on occasion, taking some of the burden off the beleaguered offensive linemen to sustain their blocks.
“They’re both capable of being good pass protectors. They’re both good receivers,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said.
“We can mix them however we want, but Jerick with his explosiveness and his ability to come out of the backfield when appropriate we will try to take advantage of that.”
BRADFORD’S ARM, DIGGS’ HANDS
Sam Bradford surpassed all expectations on Sunday night when he took hold of the offense after two weeks of practice and was so sharp in a victory over the Green Bay Packers.
Bradford completed 22 of 31 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns, taking advantage of a defense that had loaded up to stop Peterson.
He immediately clicked with second-year receiver Stefon Diggs, a budding star who had nine catches for 182 yards and a touchdown in the game.
With Peterson gone, it would figure that the offense would evolve more to feature the passing game with Bradford, Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph. But Zimmer and Turner both said they were committed to a balanced offense.
“That’s our identity and that’s how we’re built. We’re going to continue to stay that way,” Zimmer said.
“Hopefully we can play good defense and hopefully we can run the ball. Take our shots when we get a chance. We’re not going to change and go to like five (receivers) every play.”
HEAVY DOSE OF D
Zimmer is a defensive-minded coach, and he has his unit playing at a high level early in the season. The Vikings rank fifth in total defense, scored two touchdowns in the season-opening 25-16 victory in Tennessee and kept Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense under wraps in the 17-14 win on Sunday night.
The Vikings shouldn’t need to get into many shootouts to win games this season, and they don’t have to look back far for inspiration.
The Broncos rode a dominant defense to the Super Bowl championship last season, with DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, Aqib Talib and crew helping a weakened Peyton Manning win his second title.
With Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks, the Vikings have a versatile, aggressive, playmaking unit that will take the pressure off the offense.
“You’re going to have guys go down throughout the year,” defensive end Brian Robison said.
“And us as a defense, we’re going to put it on our shoulders and we’re going to make sure that we do whatever we can do to put the offense in a good position.”