Adrian Peterson is far and away the Vikings' best offensive player. Conventional thinking would have you believe that you are supposed to give your best player the ball more than anyone else.
The Vikings missed that day in conventional-thinking class.
Peterson only received five carries during the Vikings second-half meltdown against the Lions on Sunday. It doesn't make any sense why, because with a 20-point lead and a dominant running back the goal should be to pound the ball with the run, eat the clock and go home with a victory.
Instead, the Vikings and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave tried to get too cute in the second half passing on first down on four of their first five drives of the half, four of which ended with three-and-outs. That eliminated the rhythm Peterson had going in the first half (12-73-1 rushing, 6.1 yards per carry). It's a strategy that could have worked with Donovan McNabb circa 2004, but not the less-mobile, less-accurate 2011 edition.
To make matters worse, on the Vikings' most critical offensive play, fourth-and-one from the Lions' 17-yard line, the ball went to backup Toby Gerhart instead of Peterson.
While the rest of the league is becoming pass-happier by the week, the Vikings don't have the offensive personnel (struggling McNabb, pedestrian pass-catchers) to merrily join the rest of the league. The focus of their offense always needs to be Peterson and they can't lose that identity, whether the defense uses eight-man fronts or not.
The Vikings had success running against eight-man fronts in the first half against the Lions and should have continued trying in the second half. As McNabb has proven this season, last season with the Redskins and at the end of his last season with the Eagles in 2009, his skills are diminished and he's not the caliber quarterback he once was.
The philosophy needs to be ball-control on offense centered around Peterson and making McNabb a game-manager and protecting their defense, which has been good so far this season containing two explosive offenses (Chargers and Lions), from getting worn down in the second half because the offense can't maintain possession.
It's asking a lot of Peterson to carry a football team the way backs like Earl Campbell used to do, especially in an age of two-back systems. But with a shiny, new contract it's a responsibility he has to take given that the weaponry on the Vikings' offense, outside of Percy Harvin, is average.
Musgrave and the rest of the Vikings coaching staff must remember that Peterson gives the team the best chance at victory.