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Thursday Notebook: Getting AP on Track, Secondary Depth, Special Teams Fakes

Posted Sep 26, 2013

The Vikings week overseas in England continues as they prepare to face the Steelers in London on Sunday. Here are a couple of storylines that have emerged…

“Keep grinding, keep pounding”
Since he entered the NFL in 2007, no running back has more rushing yards than Adrian Peterson’s 9,130. That production stems from two traits – pure talent and sheer determination. While no one slides through a defense and glides away like Peterson, it can also be said that no one runs over and out-muscles defenses like Peterson, either.

Through three games this season, though, Peterson has been held in check, relatively speaking. While most NFL running backs would gladly take 281 yards and three touchdowns through three games, that is substandard production by Peterson’s standards.

“Teams are adding an extra guy in the box,” Peterson acknowledged while meeting with reporters on Wednesday. “We’ve played some pretty good defensive fronts the first three weeks, and they’ve just been doing a good job of containing the run and now allowing big runs to take place.”

To get back on track, it sounds like Peterson is ready to lean on the running over and out-muscling part of his skill set, and to use determination more than speed or agility to increase production on the ground.

“We’re going to keep grinding,” Peterson insisted. “I trust those guys up front. I know things will open up eventually. Think back to last year in the first couple weeks, things really didn’t explode like they did later on that season, so that’s encouraging. We’re just going to keep grinding, keep pounding.”

Peterson raises a good point. Early in his MVP campaign last season while he was bouncing back from offseason knee surgery, Peterson was on a pitch count and his production reflected that. Through his first six games, Peterson averaged just 18.3 carries per game. Over the final 10 games, Peterson averaged 23.5 carries per game. His first 100-yard game didn’t come until Week 4 and he didn’t put up consecutive 100-yard games until Week 7 and Week 8.

With his team’s back up against the wall and, more importantly, with Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton, Peterson is confident the running game will re-emerge.

“You’ve just got to out-will those guys for four quarters,” Peterson said. “It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Just gotta keep pounding, be balanced offensively and it’ll open up. I have faith our run game is going to open up and explode.”

Secondary depth will be tested on Sunday
The Vikings came out of last Sunday’s loss to the Cleveland Browns a bit banged up in the secondary, and the impact may well trickle into this Sunday’s game against the Steelers. Starters Chris Cook (groin) and Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) left the Browns game, didn’t return to action and also didn’t practice on Wednesday, and reserve AJ Jefferson (ankle) also left the Browns game, didn’t return and didn’t practice on Wednesday.

With two starters and a primary reserve dealing with injuries, the Vikings depth in the secondary will likely be tested against Ben Roethlisberger and a Steelers offense that isn’t afraid to throw the ball with frequency. In last week’s loss to Chicago, Roethlisberger threw 41 passes, and in the first two weeks Big Ben had 33 and 37 attempts, respectively.

Andrew Sendejo saw increased action at safety when Sanford left the game last week, and he may be called on again this week if Sanford is once again unable to return. The Vikings could also activate Mistral Raymond, who hasn’t played in a game yet in 2013. At cornerback, Xavier Rhodes and Marcus Sherels will see more time if Jefferson can’t play.

Not so fake?
Last week the Browns succeeded twice on fake kicks against the Vikings, converting a fake punt on 4th down and then scoring a touchdown on a fake field goal not long after. It was an unusual turn of events for the Vikings, who under Mike Priefer have had one of the NFL’s top special teams groups.

Vikings

While it’s unlikely the Steelers would get too tricky against a Vikings team that just had two fakes work against them, you can be sure both teams are doing their due diligence in this area as their preparations continue for Sunday’s game.

But according to the statistical data base I can access, the Steelers are not a team that attempts many fakes. They have not attempted a fake through three games this season, and in 2012 they attempted just one fake – an unsuccessful fake field goal on 4th and 1 from the oppositions 3-yardline. In fact, since Mike Tomlin became the Steelers head coach in 2007, they have attempted a total of three fake kicks. The lone successful fake came in 2007 on a fake punt from their own 46 and they had another unsuccessful fake punt from the 50 in 2011.

Another consideration, though, is that Pittsburgh has a new special teams coordinator. His name is Danny Smith and he was most recently with the Washington Redskins from 2004-12. The Redskins didn’t attempt any fakes under Smith’s guidance from 2010-12, but in 2009 they were successful on two of three fake field goal tries, with both conversions going for touchdowns.

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