The Vikings Should Not Let Adrian Peterson Play on Sunday

Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen

The Minnesota Vikings’ media is currently embroiled in their most serious kerfuffle (if you can call it that) with head coach Mike Zimmer to date. While the third-year coach would prefer to keep the scribes playing 20 Questions when it comes to the injury report, we ink-stained wretches are puzzled as to why such information is being guarded like the Ark of the Covenant, especially during the allegedly meaningless preseason.

Zimmer refused last Thursday – and continues to refuse – to acknowledge the reason Teddy Bridgewater missed the most recent preseason game, though all indications point toward Bridgewater having a sore shoulder. Bridgewater didn’t throw a pass at Saturday or Sunday’s practice, wide receiver Charles Johnson alluded to an injury during a media scrum on Tuesday (“We know that in this league people do have injuries. They’re not going to be out there sometimes.”) and Zimmer used the not-so-subtle phrasing, “If he had an issue with his shoulder then I’m going to make sure that I err on the side of caution.”

The frustration over Zimmer’s transparent-as-mud approach boiled over with a reporter when the coach wouldn’t reveal whether Adrian Peterson would be playing against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. “If they knew Adrian Peterson was playing in the backfield, I think they would probably be having a lot of run blitzes and a lot of eight-man boxes and stacking the line of scrimmage,” Zimmer said in his own defense.

The back-and-forth between Zimmer and the reporter over press conference etiquette has become the principle headline in this #MediaProblems saga, but it is overshadowing a bigger issue.

If Zimmer is even considering playing Peterson — why?

“If he wants to play, then we will discuss what we think,” said Zimmer last week. “If he goes in there, he’s probably not going to get one pass and done, so he’s gonna play.”

If we’re to take that comment at face value, the Vikings may not only entertain Peterson’s request to play in the game but play him a considerable amount.

While NFL coaches can’t do their jobs in constant fear of injuries, there is a definite difference between a young player needing game reps to get back in the flow and a 31-year-old running back who is the focal point of your offense and an established NFL star. Peterson is the latter, and very little good can come of putting him at risk, particularly if it’s for more than one or two drives as Zimmer insinuated.

If Zimmer is even considering playing Peterson — why?

It’s not like the stats count towards the record books, nor do the preseason thrills last more than a fleeting moment. Even if Peterson could duplicate his record-breaking 296-yard performance against San Diego his rookie season, it would ultimately count for nothing towards Emmitt Smith’s all-time mark. Cheap thrills.

A counter-argument might be that Peterson didn’t play in the preseason last year, then failed to find any sort of rhythm when he finally got on the field in Week 1. But that was an extenuating circumstance. Peterson hadn’t played since Week 1 of the 2014 season and wasn’t with the team most of the offseason due to off-the-field issues. This year Peterson put in a quietly productive offseason that was enhanced by his new gym in Houston. He shouldn’t experience the same deer-in-the-headlights feeling he did at Levi’s Stadium last September.

“If I played him and he got hurt, you guys would be killing me in the press,” said Zimmer on Tuesday about Bridgewater.

Well, the same applies to his workhorse ball carrier.

Peterson has not received a carry since the 2011 preseason and has still managed to shake off the rust to win two rushing titles: 2012 and 2015. He needs the practice about as much as Lance Armstrong needs practice riding a bike.

When asked whether it was important Bridgewater saw time in the final two preseason games, Zimmer responded, “I don’t know, he’s played an awful lot of games. It’s not like he’s a first-year rookie.”

“If I played him and he got hurt, you guys would be killing me in the press.”

There’s some sound advice that Zimmer should heed with Peterson, who has played over four times more games than Bridgewater.

The coach conceded on Wednesday that he doesn’t view the third preseason game as a glorified dress rehearsal for the regular season as many like to say. If he follows that line of thinking, and abides by his statements about Bridgewater, he won’t play Peterson on Sunday afternoon.  

The fans would love it. It would help the Vikings win. But it would be the wrong decision.

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