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Updated: October 24th, 2013 4:58pm
Zulgad: No excuses Sunday; Bill Musgrave needs to feed Adrian Peterson

Zulgad: No excuses Sunday; Bill Musgrave needs to feed Adrian Peterson

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Leslie Frazier's background is on the defensive side of the football.

He played cornerback for the Chicago Bears and joined the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff in 2007 as defensive coordinator.

But with the Vikings off to a 1-5 start and Frazier in jeopardy of losing his job if things don't turnaround, the Vikings head coach would be wise this week to weigh in heavily when it comes to the offensive game plan.

In fact, forget weighing in, the mild-mannered Frazier should tell coordinator Bill Musgrave exactly what he wants to see Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers at the Metrodome.

The edict should be simple: Adrian Peterson will get no fewer than 30 carries and Christian Ponder's main job will be to tuck the football into Peterson's hands.

Thirty carries would be a season-high for the Pro Bowl running back and 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player who was inexcusably ignored last Monday night in the Vikings' 23-7 loss to the New York Giants.

Overall, Musgrave's game plan was a mystery and the fact Peterson only got 13 rushing attempts and finished with 28 yards was embarrassing. Somehow in a game that wasn't a blowout, Josh Freeman was asked to throw the ball 53 times in his first start with the Vikings and the team's best offensive weapon had one fewer carry than he did in any game last season.

You will recall that Peterson began the 2012 season coming off a major knee injury and was on a "pitch count" to start the year. Yet, in playing in all 16 games and rushing for a remarkable 2,097 yards, he never had fewer than 14 rushes in a game.

Seven times he had 23 or more carries. In the past two games, he has rushed the ball a combined 23 times. This is negligence on Musgrave's part and it's the Vikings' good fortune that Peterson rarely airs his grievances with how he's used.

The Vikings coaches, of course, might provide some excuses for the lack of carries.

The first would be that Peterson showed up last week on the injury report because of a sore right hamstring. The problem is that Peterson dismissed the injury on Thursday, even though he missed practice Wednesday. Peterson said he has been dealing with the issue for about five weeks but he didn't even bring it up until last week.

Another flaw in this argument would be that if there was concern about Peterson, why didn't Toby Gerhart get one carry in the game? Don't look now, but Gehart has two carries in six games and should be begging the Vikings to deal him before Tuesday's trade deadline.

The second explanation would be that the Giants game got out of hand and the Vikings had to go to the pass. The week before this was a valid excuse and is likely why Peterson only had 62 yards on 10 carries against Carolina in a 35-10 defeat.

But to say the Vikings had to turn to the pass against the Giants because of the score is a bunch of you know what. New York led 10-7 at the half and 17-7 through three quarters. In other words, this game was close and the Vikings ignored their most dynamic threat in order to put the ball in Freeman's hands.

At halftime, Peterson had eight carries for 9 yards and Freeman had attempted 16 passes. He would wind up with 15 overthrows. The plan going into the game and all through it should have been to hope Freeman could stretch the field a few times and provide Peterson some breathing room.

There are some who point to the fact the offensive line is struggling, but that's even more reason to put the ball in Peterson's hands. Peterson's favorite phrase is "famine, famine, feast," meaning on one carry he might lose 2 yards, on the next he might gain 3 yards and on the third he might go 70 yards for a touchdown.

Who would you rather have trying to create offense by himself: Freeman, a guy who was struggling at Tampa Bay before being released and was (to be kind) rusty on Monday? Or would you rather take your chances with Peterson, who has the ability to break loose at any time?

And don't give me the argument that defenses are stacking the box against Peterson and making it impossible for him to run. What do you think defenses have been doing since Peterson entered the NFL in 2007?

The only quarterback the Vikings have had who could get guys out of the box in recent years was Brett Favre in 2009. What do you think defenses were doing against Peterson last season? They were pinching up to the line of scrimmage and daring Peterson to run.

That worked out pretty well.

In the Vikings' seventh game last season, Peterson rushed for 153 yards against the Arizona Cardinals, beginning a stretch of eight consecutive games in which he ran for more than 100 yards.

This included a 210-yard performance on 21 carries in a loss at Green Bay on Dec. 2. After Peterson had his streak of 100-yard performances broken on Dec. 23 at Houston, he ran for 199 yards on 34 carries against the Packers in a victory that put the Vikings in the playoffs.

The next week Peterson added 99 yards on 22 rushes in a playoff loss at Lambeau Field. This meant in three games against the Packers, Peterson averaged 169 yards rushing.

Will Peterson be able to replicate that type of success against the Vikings' arch-rival on Sunday? Not if the Vikings' offensive coordinator continues to baffle us by keeping the ball out of Peterson's hands.

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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