EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) – The Minnesota Vikings have based their offense on the elite abilities of Adrian Peterson.
Success in the NFL doesn’t come these days without balance, though, and the Vikings were reminded anew in their season opener they can’t be too reliant on their star running back.
They averaged more than 6 yards per rush — Peterson gained 98 yards on 16 carries — but the glaring problem in the 24-17 defeat Sunday in San Diego was the lack of punch from the passing game.
Donovan McNabb threw for only 39 yards — yes, 39 — in his Minnesota debut. That was the fewest in a game for the Vikings since 1971.
“There are some things that he’ll definitely want to improve on,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “But if you look at the entire team, there are some things that we need to improve on as a team, which in turn will help him and help our football team. But he did some good things in that ballgame.”
McNabb didn’t have much help, and he didn’t look that bad. He completed just 7 of 15 passes, but the interception he threw on his first snap was a batted ball on the line. His only deep throw, to Bernard Berrian on third down midway through the fourth quarter, was hurried by pressure from the Chargers, yet still hit Berrian in the hands despite being behind the receiver. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe also dropped what would’ve been a first-down pass early in the third quarter.
Plus, whether it was play calling or leaks in the protection, McNabb opted for dump-offs or safe, short throws to Peterson and Percy Harvin seven other times — completing four of them. He took two sacks and took off running three times, for a total of 32 yards. Left tackle Charlie Johnson had trouble with his pass blocking, and the rush came from other places, too.
Center John Sullivan said he believed the Vikings were “pretty solid” with their protection.
“There’s obviously improvements to be made, little things in technique and communication. We’re still breaking it in. Obviously it needs to happen quickly because we’re into the real games now,” Sullivan said. “All in all, I think it was a good start. You just wish the outcome was different.”
The Vikings held a 17-7 lead into the third quarter, but the defense had its own second-half problems with downfield tackling and covering the middle of the field. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers found a rhythm by looking away from his primary receivers and completing several key throws to his running backs and tight ends. Time of possession was a major factor in the discrepancy between the two passing attacks: San Diego held the ball for 20 minutes and 56 seconds in the second half to Minnesota’s measly 9:04.
“It wasn’t like they changed what they were doing coverage-wise on defense or what they were doing front-wise,” Frazier said. “It was pretty much what we expected. We didn’t execute as well, and we have to get better on third down. If you want to stay on the field, you have to convert third downs.”
The message from Frazier and the players Monday was consistency, and the coach said he’s “really encouraged” by a lot of developments during the game. Many times in sports, however, inconsistency is merely a sign of deficiencies, not an inability to focus or a lack of effort.
“It’s going to take some time to jell. Growing pains? You could call it that,” Shiancoe said. He added: “The Chargers are a good team. We’ve got to give them props. All I can say is we’re going to get to work, and this offense is going to improve.”
Peterson said he’s “very confident” in Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and their plan.
“It could have worked out and it could have been productive, but obviously it wasn’t,” Peterson said. “So we’ll just make the proper adjustments, and ultimately I feel like we’ll be OK.”
Getting the tight ends more involved is a good place to start, because Musgrave’s system puts them in heavy use. Neither Shiancoe nor Kyle Rudolph or Jim Kleinsasser had a catch in the game. The run-run-pass predictability is a cycle the Vikings must escape, too, if they’re going to have some offensive success.
“We have to be aware of how people are going to try to defend us,” Frazier said. “This game will hopefully be one of those that we’ll look back at and say, `That game helped us.”‘
NOTES: Shaun Phillips swatted McNabb’s first pass and caught it for the interception, showing exceptional anticipation and athleticism on that play. Frazier said McNabb called an audible, changing the play from a handoff to Peterson to a quick pass to Harvin in the flat. Johnson was supposed to try to cut block in that situation to keep the defensive end’s hands out of the way. “He made a great play,” Frazier said of Phillips. … The Vikings changed backup centers on Monday, waiving Jon Cooper and signing Joe Berger, a seven-year veteran let go by the Miami Dolphins last week. Berger played at Division II Michigan Tech. … After missing all four preseason games, Shiancoe said his hamstring felt fine. “I was in better shape than I thought. I wasn’t getting tired at all.”
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