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Updated: September 26th, 2011 3:30pm
Zulgad: Lack of carries for Adrian Peterson was a costly mistake

Zulgad: Lack of carries for Adrian Peterson was a costly mistake

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - The Minnesota Vikings signed Adrian Peterson to a seven-year contract that included $36 million in guarantees this month because he's one of the elite running backs in the NFL.

Maybe the best.

So how on earth did coach Leslie Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave forget about Peterson in the second half of the Vikings' latest meltdown Sunday at the Metrodome?

After helping the Vikings to a 20-0 halftime lead by gaining 73 yards on 12 carries with a touchdown, Peterson was handed the ball only five times and gained 5 yards in the second half and overtime as the Lions rallied for a 26-23 victory.

Frazier said at his press conference Monday that the Lions started using more eight-man fronts in the second half to stop Peterson, but he also acknowledged going away from the Pro Bowl running back was a poor idea. Frazier planned to "revisit" that subject this week with Musgrave.

"I have to remind myself of this -- even if Adrian gets stopped for a negative gain or 2 yards, because they've got so many people in the line of scrimmage, he's such a great player that even against eight-man fronts he can still make something happen," Frazier said. "You can't ever forget that."

Frazier was reminded of Peterson's ability to handle eight- and nine-men fronts in the first quarter Sunday when Peterson had a 43-yard run with the majority of Lions pulled up toward the line of scrimmage.

"Once I get a crease and I'm out there's not too many guys left to beat," Peterson said. "I've been facing eight-, nine-men fronts since I've been here. Even when (Brett) Favre was here, I was facing eight- and nine-men fronts."

Peterson is in his fifth NFL season and has been the primary focus of an offense that has been very good at times and well below average at others.

This Vikings offense would fall into the latter category and makes it even more shocking that it would take this latest second-half implosion for Musgrave to be reminded of the fact that Peterson is one of two legitimate offensive playmakers on this roster.

The other one is wide receiver Percy Harvin and it was well documented last week that he was in for only 30 of 68 offensive snaps in the Vikings' loss to Tampa Bay in Week 2. In that case, the Vikings blew a 17-0 halftime lead.

Harvin saw plenty of time on offense against the Lions, although he was missing late in the game. That came after he took a big hit on a kickoff return and then vomited on the sideline, in part because he was battling a virus.

There was no such excuse for Peterson's workload being reduced. Even when Peterson was on the field, he wasn't always used.

The most obvious example came on Frazier's decision to go for it on fourth-down and a long 1 from the Detroit 17-yard line with the Vikings up 20-17 in the fourth quarter. Instead of handing the ball to Peterson, Donovan McNabb gave it to Toby Gerhart.

The decision to not take the points was a curious one, but Musgrave's failure to give the ball to a guy everyone in the NFL considers to be an elite running back was even a bigger shock.

Asked Monday if he believes there should have been more of a commitment to him in the second half, Peterson turned the question around. "What do you think?" he said.

Those who have covered Peterson know this is his way of saying that he should have been given the ball more often but enables him not to criticize the coaches.

Peterson said Frazier hadn't talked to him privately about the need to get the ball in his hands more often but said it had come up.

"He kind of addressed (it), talking in the team meeting, but he hasn't just come to me personally and said anything," Peterson said. "But if he said it to you, I guess that's what we're going to do, so I'll be looking forward to it."

It's already crystal clear that nothing is going to come easy for these Vikings. They have outscored opponents 54-7 in the first half, but are 0-3 because teams have turned the tables on them in the second half to the tune of a 67-6 advantage.

McNabb is in his 13th NFL season and will turn 35 in November.

Yet, Frazier talked Monday about looking at what the team is doing with McNabb's mechanics given his accuracy on throws has become an issue. And that doesn't address the fact McNabb's throws lack any zip.

Frazier's not going to admit it, but it's looking more and more as if the McNabb who was benched twice by Mike Shanahan in Washington last season is the guy the Vikings received in a trade for what likely will be one sixth-round pick next year.

McNabb is far from the Vikings only problem.

The team hoped that by getting Bernard Berrian to take a paycut before training camp and, in turn, making this the final year of his contract, that the wide receiver would be motivated enough to return to his 2008 form when he had a team-leading 964 yards receiving and seven touchdowns.

Safe to say that's not going to happen.

Berrian's reception total dipped to 28 last season - in part we were told because Brett Favre didn't like to throw him the ball. This season he has one reception for 17 yards in three games with Favre nowhere near Winter Park.

Expecting that McNabb or Berrian are going to turn it around isn't realistic. Michael Jenkins had nine catches Sunday but he's a possession guy, not a big-play threat.

What this means is Peterson and Harvin have to get the ball whenever possible, no matter how many people know that's the plan.

That also means Frazier and Musgrave need to stop overthinking matters and accept the fact that while their offense is limited when it comes to playmakers they do have two of the best.

And there is no compelling reason not to use them both.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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