Will Adrian Peterson be odd man out in Saints' backfield?
He carried the ball six times for 18 yards without a catch. And that included getting the first two touches of the game against his former team, the Minnesota Vikings, when he was expected to possibly be featured even more than usual because of the personal connection.
Now here’s the “good” news. Those 18 yards were tied for the most by any Saints running back Monday. And Peterson’s 3.0 yards per carry were better than Mark Ingram (six carries, 17 yards) or Alvin Kamara (seven carries, 18 yards).
In other words, yes, Peterson flopped in his Saints debut. But the entire running game flopped along with him -- and was eventually abandoned as the Saints spent the fourth quarter in catch-up mode.
So it can only get better from here.
But the big question is how much better can it really get for Peterson, who appears to be playing third fiddle in the three-way time-share?
Peterson should still get his fair share of rushing attempts this season -- when the game flow allows the Saints to run the ball more. And he should get a smattering of catches out of the backfield. (He was the primary target on a play-action pass inside the 2-yard line that was snuffed out by Minnesota’s defense in the fourth quarter.)
But clearly the Saints prefer both Ingram and Kamara on passing downs -- and they’re a pass-first team even when they aren’t playing from behind.
Kamara actually led the Saints' backs with 31 snaps Monday because he lined up as a receiver several times. He caught four passes for 20 yards. Ingram, who is the Saints' most trusted pass protector, had 26 snaps and caught five passes for 54 yards. Kamara and Ingram were on the field together a handful of times.
When asked if it was difficult to rotate the three backs into the game flow, Saints coach Sean Payton said, “It only becomes difficult when you become one-dimensional. And that happened too early in the fourth quarter.”
And when asked if he gave Peterson the opening two carries instead of Ingram because the game was in Minnesota, Payton said, “No, listen, it’s the first game of the year. There isn’t a ‘normally.’”
“We’re gonna pay attention to what we want to do each week and obviously try to have a good balance with those two players, and I think we’ll be able to,” Payton said of Peterson and Ingram. “We didn’t run it well enough.”
I’m not going to drastically alter my projections for the Saints' running backs, because I never expected them to have one of their best rushing days on the road against a stout Vikings defense that earned five Pro Bowl selections last year.
And, no, I don’t think a wide rift will suddenly develop between Peterson and Payton, who both denied that there was anything behind their brief exchange of words caught on camera on the sideline.
However, Peterson was clearly less than thrilled with his debut performance. When asked to evaluate it, he cracked, “What was it, like nine snaps? Eh. Not too much to evaluate.”
And there are two new reasons for concern among Peterson’s fans and fantasy owners:
- It looks like Kamara will be even more involved in the running game than originally anticipated -- and not just the passing game.
- The Saints don’t look like a team that’s poised to run the ball more or better than recent years (they’ve pingponged between roughly 1,473, 1,818, 1,491 and 1,742 yards over the past four years.
Last month, I projected Ingram to have between 750-900 rushing yards, 300-400 receiving yards and 6-8 touchdowns; Peterson 650-800 rushing, 150-250 receiving and 6-8 TDs; Kamara 200-300 rushing, 350-450 receiving and 2-3 TDs.
Now I’d lean more toward the lower end of those Peterson estimates and upgrade my Kamara projections a bit.
Peterson might have a big game or big play here and there, but it will be impossible to expect any consistent level of production for a run-first back on a pass-first team.
“Of course it’s tough,” Peterson said of his disappointing performance against his former team. “I’m your ultimate competitor. It was tough. But I knew the type of situation I was coming into. So at the end of the day, we just gotta figure out how we can just do better.”