Adrian Peterson is now third in the league for rushing yards, but he’s first in the league in an unwanted statistic – fumbles.
Peterson spent about half of his Thursday press conference addressing the topic after he fumbled twice against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, bringing his league-leading total among running backs with at least 96 carries to six, according to Football Outsiders.
"I'm my hardest critic and I can sometimes on the field be my biggest enemy,” Peterson said. “When I look at the fumbles, it comes every time I'm in a crowd, trying to fight for extra yards. Guys are not tackling me. They're really tackling the ball. Just being more aware of that, that that's what guys are going to do – try to tackle the ball, instead of actually tackling the player that's running the ball."
The topic isn’t new territory for Peterson, who has had issues hanging onto the ball the last couple of years, but it’s become more of a focus after he has fumbled four times, losing three of them, in the last three games. He fumbled twice against Chicago, losing one of the Vikings’ first drives as they moved into scoring position. Only a successful challenge by Brad Childress allowed the Vikings to maintain possession after Peterson’s second fumble in the game.
Vikings coaches have been suggesting for more than a year that Peterson might have to learn how go down when he is corralled instead of continuing to fight for additional yards, but that tends to go against Peterson’s competitive nature.
"It's not easy. Obviously you know how I play the game, but it's something that I have to take into consideration because I know that when I'm in a crowd, I know the opponent. I'm sure the defensive coordinators tell those guys, 'Hey, when we got him up, forget tackling if he's not going anywhere. Rip for the ball. Rip for the ball. Rip for the ball.' So I'm just going to start being more aware of putting two hands on the ball and going down at times,” Peterson said.
“… If I continue to fumble the ball, especially now in this stretch, I'm sure I'll be sitting on the sideline. That's something I definitely don't want to do. So take care of the ball."
Childress said it’s good that the thoughts of potentially being benched “hover around” in Peterson’s mind, but it doesn’t sound like something Childress is seriously considering.
“You’re either part of the problem or part of solution. He’s been a great part of the solution and helping us win. If you touch the football, you make decisions with the football, you have a chance to affect the outcome of the game,” Childress said. “He’s a trustworthy guy. I don’t have a problem with that. Touch it as many times as he does, somewhere it’s going on the ground.”
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell suggested that some of the troubles have been because of Peterson not always carrying the ball in the correct hand (away from the defense). Both of his fumbles against Chicago came on runs to the left. On the first one, a handoff, he put the ball in his left hand. On the second one, in the third quarter, he took a pitch and put it in his right hand.
“I’m kind of dominated with my right hand. So at times I get lost and I have it in my right arm or tucked when I’m running to the left,” he said. “So I’ve just got to be more critical of myself. When I’m going to the left, make sure I’m carrying the ball in the correct arm and maybe when you knock it out it will bounce out of bounds instead still in the field of play.”
Vikings coaches know it’s a delicate balance between not taking too much of the fight out of his competitive nature but still making sure he secures the ball.
“We love the guy in terms of his fighting, his scratching, his clawing, trying to get those extra yards. They end up holding him up, ripping them out when he’s getting gang tackled so those may be times where you’ve got to give up the fight. But that’s a tough thing to tell a guy that that’s engrained in him,” Bevell said. “We’ve got to work on making sure that he’s got the ball in the right arm when he needs to have it there and the left arm when he needs to have it there as well.”
Bevell said former Packers running back Ahman Green, who had issues with fumbling the ball, carried the ball just in his right arm. He also noted that Green tended to fumble the ball more early in the season, possibly because he wasn’t used to the constant contact of regular-season games.
Peterson said he is looking at different ways to the carry the ball and trying to practice the right technique during the week.
“It’s something I focus on now. Sometimes I see the fumbles where I see guys punching it out and then during the game I’ll be like, ‘I don’t know how that ball can come out. It’s just little things like, carrying the ball too low at times, is something that I point out and focus on when I’m in practice – keeping it high and tight and if you do that in practice it will roll over in the game.”
The “high and tight” adage came when former Giants running back Tiki Barber struggled with fumbling early in his career and changed how he secured the ball. Peterson said, however, that it might limit his running style.
“In terms of the fumbles, you hate to see those,” Childress said. “I know we got one back with the challenge, but there was no doubt in my mind there we were moving in the right direction there and were going to score on the first series of the game had we not laid it on the ground. Those things, as we say, can turn a game left-handed in quite a big hurry.”
Peterson was pulled over in Edina on Saturday night and cited for going 109 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone, according to the Associated Press. Childress confirmed that Peterson arrived late for a team meeting at the hotel but declined to say little else about the incident. “As we do with everything, that’s in-house stuff,” Childress said.
Guard Steve Hutchinson was added to the Vikings’ injury report on Thursday with a shoulder injury. He was limited in practice. The Vikings' other starting guard, Anthony Herrera (concussion), did not practice again on Thursday. Others who were limited for the Vikings were RB Chester Taylor (ribs), CB Antoine Winfield (foot), CB Benny Sapp (thumb/ribs), S Eric Frampton (concussion), T Bryant McKinnie (back), TE Visanthe Shiancoe (ribs) and FB Naufahu Tahi (ankle). WR Bernard Berrian (hamstring) and Peterson (ankle) were full participants.
For the Cardinals, LB Will Davis (knee) is out. TE Stephen Spach (knee) and T Mike Gandy (pelvis) did not participate. RB Tim Hightower (thumb), CB Bryant McFadden (knee), DE Kenny Iwebema (thumb), K Neil Rackers (groin) and LB Karlos Dansby (shoulder) were limited. QB Kurt Warner (concussion) was a full participant for the second consecutive day.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.