NEW ORLEANS -- If it's too soon to say the Minnesota Vikings' days of relying on a commanding running game are over, it's at least time to wonder how much they'll have to do before they can move the ball effectively on the ground again.
The Vikings have run for just 113 yards in two games without Adrian Peterson, who will be barred from all football activities until his child abuse case in Texas is resolved. In a 20-9 loss Sunday to the New Orleans Saints, quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Cassel accounted for 32 of the team's 59 rushing yards. They opened their first drive with two running backs and two tight ends on the field, and showed a heavy run look with three tight ends on their second offensive play. The team made greater use of fullback Jerome Felton as a lead blocker, returning him to the role that got Felton to the Pro Bowl in 2013. But there was still no room to be found against the Saints.
"We need to work on a lot of things and get better," said running back Matt Asiata, who carried 12 times for 35 yards. "We can't look at [Peterson's] situation and make excuses. We lost the game. I mean, we got into the red zones a few times and just didn't capitalize. You put yourself in a great situation to score and we didn't do it."
If tight end Kyle Rudolph or right guard Brandon Fusco are out for any length of time with groin and pectoral injuries, respectively, the Vikings will have even greater reason for concern with their running game. Both players are important cogs in the Vikings' blocking scheme, and Rudolph's absence would also remove one of the Vikings' more reliable passing options from the offense.
Considering how much trouble the Vikings have had throwing the ball downfield this season -- and how much desire they'll likely have to keep pressure off rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater -- they can't put themselves in the situation they did Sunday, when eight of their 14 third downs saw them at least six yards from the first-down marker.
Part of the blame for so many third-and-longs falls on an ineffective running game, and it seems far-fetched to expect a quick return from Peterson will fix that. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Sunday the Vikings do not foresee Peterson in their future plans, since he'd likely face NFL discipline even if he is able to enter a guilty plea and resolve his case in court quickly. Without him, the Vikings will have to figure out another solution, especially when they now count a rookie quarterback among the stakeholders in an effective ground game.
"It's disappointing, obviously, that we don't have [Peterson]," Felton said. "I mean, he's the best player in the world -- I think he's the best player in the league. It's disappointing, but I won't call it a distraction. I mean, we played hard and well enough to win. We just made too many mistakes out there."