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Vikings’ new backfield faces key to competing vs. Lions

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Two years ago, Adrian Peterson was powering his way toward a 2,097-yard rushing season and a league MVP award. This week, the Minnesota Vikings head into Sunday’s game at the Detroit Lions with former third-stringer Matt Asiata and his 385 yards as their leading active rusher.

Peterson remains exiled from the team as he fights the league to reduce the suspension handed down for the injuries he caused while disciplining his 4-year-old son with a wooden switch. Meanwhile, rookie Jerick McKinnon, who showed promise with 538 yards and a 4.8-yard average, hasn’t played in three weeks and is now on injured reserve following lower back surgery.

That has left Asiata, an admirable grinder with limited skills as a former fullback, to share the job with Joe Banyard, a former practice squad player, and Ben Tate, the former Texan and Brown who was claimed off of waivers three weeks ago.

Heads were scratched Sunday when Asiata kept getting the football and kept going virtually nowhere. He ended up with 19 carries and a 2.8-yard average, while no other running back got more than three carries. Tate had three for 15 yards, while Banyard had one carry for nine yards.

Coach Mike Zimmer was asked to explain and, straight-shooter that he is, fessed up and admitted the coaches lost track of who was getting how many carries.

“I think Matt probably had a few too many carries,” Zimmer said. “We’d like to get Joe a few more carries and we’d like to get Ben a few more carries this week as well so we’ll see. Sometimes you just get in the flow of games and things happen. Unless you pre-script it and say, ‘This series and this series,’ sometimes that’s just the way it goes. Matt probably got a few too many and those other guys probably got a few too less.”

Based on the physical beating the team took from the Lions in Week 6 at TCF Bank Stadium, this would be a good time for the Vikings’ running game to show some muscle and a few more explosive moves from the shiftier Banyard and the more explosive Tate. The Lions rank No. 1 in run defense, while the Vikings’ beat up offensive line is expected to start backup left guard Vladimir Ducasse in place of the injured Charlie Johnson (ankle). For those keeping track, that means the Vikings likely will be lining up with their second left guard, second right tackle and third right guard this season.

The last time these teams met, Detroit won 17-3. The running game had only 68 yards, while rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw three interceptions in his second NFL start. Bridgewater also was sacked eight times in what clearly was the worst offensive performance of the season.

“I’d say I’m very different now than I was then,” said Bridgewater, who is 5-5 with four comeback wins as a starter. “I say this offense is very different and this team is very different. We have a group of guys who continue to just play for one another each week. We show that whenever our backs are against the wall, we’re going to answer. I love playing with this group of guys each Sunday and it’s going to be another fun game this Sunday.”

The Vikings have won two straight and, at 6-7, they’ve topped last year’s win total of five. But they’re also the only team in the league that hasn’t beaten a team that now has a winning record. And they also haven’t won a division game, going 0-4 against NFC North opponents.

“In order for us to get to where we have to get to, we have to beat teams in our division,” Zimmer said. “We have to get to their level at some point in time and so that’s really what this game means to me.”

In order to beat the Lions, the Vikings have to match the physically. And the only way to do that is to run the ball with some power and efficiency.

SERIES HISTORY: 107th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 69-35-2. Vikings are 31-21-1 at Detroit, but have lost three of the past four meetings there, including last year’s season opener.

INJURY REPORT:

–LB Anthony Barr, who missed last week’s game because of a lingering knee injury, missed practice again on Wednesday. Gerald Hodges, who returned an interception for a touchdown 12 seconds into last week’s win over the Jets, would get the start if Barr can’t play.

–SS Robert Blanton, who had played every defensive snap this season before being injured late in overtime of the Jets game, did not practice on Wednesday. He would be replaced by Andrew Sendejo, who saw action at both safety spots last week and actually forced a fumble that led to a takeaway inside the Vikings’ 5-yard line.

–LG Charlie Johnson, who left last week’s game because of an ankle sprain, did not practice on Wednesday. Look for Vladimir Ducasse, who stepped in for Johnson on Sunday, to get the start this week.

–FB Jerome Felton was a surprise on the injury report Wednesday. He didn’t practice because of a neck injury. If he can’t play, the Vikings will turn to backup fullback Zach Line. In a strange personnel decision, they’ve kept Line on the active roster, but deactivate him on game days.

–DT Sharrif Floyd, who has been bothered by a bruised knee and quad for weeks, did not practice again on Sunday. After multiple weeks of trying to play only to be pulled because of the injury, it could be time that Floyd sits. Rookie Shamar Stephen has been an adequate replacement starter. The team also uses veteran Tom Johnson in an effective defensive line rotation.


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