RB Adrian Peterson suffered a high ankle sprain and some ligament damage in Sunday's loss to the Raiders it was revealed Monday by head coach Leslie Frazier. Any game or games the Vikings' Pro Bowl running back misses will hurt their already shorthanded offense.
When Peterson left the lineup and was taken off the field in the cart, the Metrodome was deflated, as was the Vikings' sideline in what turned out to be a 27-21 loss to the Raiders.
Peterson's absence made things that much tougher for rookie QB Christian Ponder, who threw three interceptions from the second quarter on.
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Ponder has been humbled the past two games, as Peterson has effectively been removed from each game — first by the Packers by virtue of gaining a huge lead over the Vikings and then by injury against the Raiders. The Raiders went after Ponder the same way the Packers did: with gusto via the blitz. Once Peterson was no longer a huge factor, it made sense to attack and pressure the rookie. Opponents could live with a few Ponder scrambles and throws on the run knowing that the sacks and QB hits would mount against a shaky offensive line in spots.
Whether Peterson misses one game (we know there is no break and Peterson said he doesn't plan on missing a long time) or four, Ponder now must be prepared for more of the same. He will have to stand up to relentless pressure, first against the Falcons in a loud Georgia Dome and then in successive games against teams with good pass rushes in the Broncos, Lions, Saints and Redskins. Who knows how many of those games will be without Peterson?
The lack of home-run speed at wideout has hurt the Vikings' offense. Bernard Berrian was cut because of his locker-room antics, and his speed no longer made him relevant. The Vikings have tried to send Devin Aromashodu deep a few times to little avail; that's not really his forte. Percy Harvin is best working the cracks underneath out of the slot.
The collective strength of the pass catchers, really, is the TE group. On Ponder's best series Sunday against the Raiders, he laced a pass between two defenders to Visanthe Shiancoe for 37 yards and a first down, then found Kyle Rudolph, who is starting to emerge, for a one-yard TD pass. Can they be enough to help Ponder from getting broken by a pass rush? Maybe. He has to find something consistent to hang his hat on, and Harvin and the tight ends could be the short-and-intermediate targets he needs to stay upright and move the chains.
The other factor is confidence. Ponder oozes it, but not in a cloying or obnoxious way. His teammates like his veteran poise and ability to stay focused even when things look dire, as they often have this season. The question is whether Ponder can weather the storm and keep taking hits amid more trouble. These next few games will be telling.