Following the season-ending knee injury to Adrian Peterson last week in Washington, there will be a change this week at RB for the Vikings. That’s the bad news. The good news, though, is that the change will be restricted to the identity of the starting RB rather than a change in offensive style or philosophy.
The Vikings offense is one built around a strong running game and around the NFL’s best RB. And when you build a team with that makeup, it’s important to have a backup RB who can be trusted with shouldering the load. By selecting Toby Gerhart in the 2nd round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the Vikings secured insurance.
Peterson was sidelined earlier this season with an ankle injury, and Gerhart stepped into the lineup and filled in admirably. He averaged 75.0 rushing yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry with 1 rushing TD while also hauling in 13 receptions for 80 yards and 1 TD. Then when Peterson left last week’s game in the 3rd quarter, Gerhart came in and immediately ripped off a 67-yard rush, the longest of his career, and finished the game with 11 carries for 109 yards, the first 100-yard rushing game of his NFL career.
By no means will anyone argue that Gerhart – or any other NFL RB – can replace the play-making ability of Peterson, but there’s also no question that Gerhart has shown that he can step into the lineup and be the kind of productive runner this Vikings offense needs.
“One of the things about Adrian’s absence earlier in the season, we had a chance to get Toby some extended snaps and we really haven’t altered the offense by any means,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said earlier in the week. “Toby has done a very good job in Adrian’s absence, did a great job Saturday of stepping in and performing and rushing for over 100 yards. We really haven’t had to alter things and we really don’t plan to. We look forward to eventually getting Adrian back on the field but we don’t think we have to really alter the offense.”
Another reason besides Gerhart that the Vikings offense will maintain its philosophy for the last game of the season is the offensive line’s run-blocking ability. Yes, the offensive line has been criticized much this season for their pass protection. But this group has been very good in the running game. The Vikings enter the final week of the regular season ranked 3rd in rushing TDs with 17 and 4th in rushing yards per game with 149.3
“I don’t know that it does this last week,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave responded when asked if Peterson’s absence would require the offense to change philosophies. “Our O-line has embraced a lot of the concepts that we have gotten good at this year so we want to keep on keeping on in that regard and Toby has proved that whether it be Adrian or Lorenzo Booker or Toby back there, we can block people and create some holes.”
The Peterson-less Vikings offense will have a good challenge this week as they go against a Chicago Bears defense that ranks 6th against the run, allowing just 97.5 rushing yards per game. The Vikings ability to establish the run will be paramount to keeping the Bears defense off-balance, which is an important part of protecting QB Christian Ponder. And protecting Ponder so he can sit in the pocket and develop as a passer is the #1 reason to watch the Vikings this weekend.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Bill Musgrave, Leslie Frazier, Toby Gerhart
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