Behind Enemy Lines: Patrick Peterson makes an impact for Vikings’ new system

Oct 28, 2022, 2:24 PM | Updated: 2:25 pm
Minnesota Vikings' Patrick Peterson smiles before an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, in ...

Minnesota Vikings' Patrick Peterson smiles before an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, in Philadelphia. Veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson's value to the Vikings has been clear since he left the Arizona Cardinals after 10 seasons. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Behind Enemy Lines brings you the key storylines and latest news for the Arizona Cardinals’ opponents each week this season.

Patrick Peterson makes an impact

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — The morning of the team’s first day back together from the bye week, a text message buzzed on Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell’s phone.

It was from Patrick Peterson. The veteran cornerback was encouraging O’Connell to call a meeting of the player leadership group, to make sure the importance of resuming practice and training routines in an urgent and focused manner would be thoroughly communicated.

“When that’s one of your players doing that, that goes a long way,” O’Connell said.

Prior to being hired by the Vikings this season, O’Connell was well aware of Peterson’s reputation around the NFL as an exemplary professional and savvy leader. The coach has naturally been even more impressed up close with Peterson’s value to the defense and the locker room.

Having left the Arizona Cardinals as a free agent last year, Peterson has been asked to learn a third scheme in as many seasons with defensive coordinator Ed Donatell favoring using zone match and two-deep safety coverages while frequently employing pre-snap and early play disguises.

In Minnesota’s most recent game in Miami, the offense punted 10 times. The Vikings thus leaned on Peterson and the defense harder than they have all year, with speedsters Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle at wide receiver for the Dolphins in the South Florida afternoon heat.

Peterson had an interception and three pass breakups in the 24-16 win. O’Connell assessed the performance as his best of the season.

“Our team could feel it. His energy was really a deciding factor for us on a hot day down there in Miami,” O’Connell said. “Every snap, he just kept getting better and better and better.”

Said Peterson: “I don’t know if the old man was feeling a little bit looser than normal, but I felt great. I just want to continue trending in the right direction.”

Even if he might not be as dominant in his 12th season as he was while being voted to the All-Pro team in three of his first five years, Peterson can clearly still play this vital position, too. The decrease in man-to-man press coverage that he played throughout his 10 seasons with the Cardinals has helped reduce the wear and tear on his body and provided more opportunity to capitalize on his keen vision of the field and instinct for the ball.

“The body feels great. The energy level is always going to be there, and just my passion and my fire to not only be my best but to try to be the best out of my teammates,” Peterson said Thursday, three days before the Vikings host the Cardinals. “That’s the joy that I get out of it: putting that fire into others and helping them reach their full potential.”

Peterson’s mentorship of fellow starting cornerback Cameron Dantzler Sr. has been a big part of that. His presence in practice has been a benefit to the entire offense, too, his experience and awareness fueling a cat-and-mouse game with Kirk Cousins in the passing attack.

“He is an intelligent player, and you can see that. He’s not going to make it easy on you or telegraph where he’s going, who he’s taking away and who he is going to give up to you as the throw,” Cousins said. “At times, he can make you a little uncertain of ‘Should I try to fit that down the field or should I just take the flat? What is he giving me here?’”

Cook, Vikings seek consistency after breakthrough TD – Wednesday

By The Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Dalvin Cook took the handoff to the left, burst through a big hole between the center and the guard, then made a slick cutback to evade an arm tackle and veer right.

Finally, he was free.

Cook raced untouched the rest of the way for a 53-yard touchdown to help Minnesota finish off Miami on Oct. 16 before the Vikings had their bye week.

He punctuated the moment by hurling the ball into the seats behind the end zone — more on that later — and soon after that was celebrating a 24-16 victory in his hometown that raised Minnesota’s record to 5-1. The Vikings host Arizona on Sunday.

That scamper through the Dolphins secondary was Cook’s first rush of more than 15 yards this season. He had a 23-yard reception on Oct. 9 against Chicago.

“We know what the ground game is. It’s a 3-yard, 4-yard fest, and then everything comes to light,” Cook said. “But when those big plays hit, we try to take advantage of them.”

The NFL has experienced a resurgence of rushing success this year, with a collective average of 4.51 yards per attempt that’s the highest since the 1970 merger, according to Sportradar. The average of 119.1 rushing yards per game per team is the highest since 1988.

Cook is 10th in the league with an average of 75 rushing yards per game, well on pace for his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season. But he’s still finding his footing in the new offense under coach Kevin O’Connell that follows more of a pass-first approach than Cook’s previous play-callers. Cook has not yet topped 20 carries in a game, after doing so 25 times over the previous three seasons.

“I think being consistent throughout the game is what we’re hunting,” Cook said.

Cook received the obligatory fine from the league for his ball toss into the crowd and, according to an NFL Network report, can have it reduced by 25% to $5,941 if he completes an online training course and avoids further fines this season.

“I’m going to look at it as something normal, throwing the ball into the stands, but that’s how the league works. I abide by their rules and you deal with the consequences, I guess,” Cook said.

Cook spent one night of his bye week watching basketball, with a courtside seat for the Timberwolves season opener. His agent, Zac Hiller, was on his right. On his left was an unexpected — and rather hairy — guest. The sasquatch mascot for local meat snacks retailer Jack Link’s sat down to make a scene for the crowd.

“He told me he’s from down South — and his whole operation,” Cook said. “What he has going on and how he keeps his body cool and everything is kind of crazy. He has like 12 ice packs under his suit.”

Vikings at 5-1 thanks to situational focus – Monday

By The Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — More than one-third of the way through their first season under coach Kevin O’Connell, the Minnesota Vikings have the only 2.5-game lead among the NFL’s eight divisions.

The question about how close this team is to seriously contending for the Super Bowl — with a roster mostly similar to the one that missed the playoffs the last two years — remains unanswered.

With their strong start ahead of an unusually large middle of the pack in the NFC, though, the Vikings have at least set themselves up for some meaningful football down the stretch. This much is clear: Good vibes and hidden strengths go a long way toward success in this sport.

“At the end of the day, we just find a way,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said after the 24-16 win at Miami two Sundays ago gave Minnesota a 5-1 record entering its bye week.

With the Arizona Cardinals on deck this Sunday, the Vikings have a plus-33 point differential in the final 4 minutes of either half. That was the best margin in the NFL through six weeks, according to Sportradar. Last season, they were dead last at minus-73. In 2020, they were third-worst in the league at minus-53.

The previous coaching staff under Mike Zimmer spent plenty of practice time on those vital scenarios, but there’s clearly a winning spirit present with this group that has been missing in Minnesota in recent years. The Vikings have won four straight games, all by one score.

“It comes down to those margins and how can we be good on some plays and situations that maybe don’t always get talked about on Monday morning, but they’re winning plays and winning philosophies for us,” O’Connell said. “Those margins become even smaller, and we’re going to have to be that much better.”

O’Connell and his staff have implemented a curriculum of sorts called “Situational Masters,” one of several pieces of the program he learned and copied from the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams under coach Sean McVay.

Ryan Cordell, who serves as game management coordinator, and Mike Pettine, the assistant head coach, lead the weekly sessions highlighting applicable sequences from around the league that can determine the difference between winning and losing.

“You have to be trained to know the situation,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said.

The Vikings have outweighed their No. 25 ranking as of last week in the NFL in yardage differential with several other influential factors.

They have taken just 185 penalty yards, the fewest in the league at that point. The Rams (24) were the only team with fewer penalties against them than the Vikings (25). Their turnover margin (plus-four) was the second-best in the NFL before their bye. They’re also fourth in the league in third-down defense, allowing a 36.4% conversion rate.

Whether this promising early-season performance by the Vikings is attributable to strategic advancements by the staff, increased confidence for the players that comes from a rejuvenated environment around the practice facility, or simply a healthy dose of good luck, they’re on the right track under the new regime.

Not to be overlooked, either, is the impact of new executive director of player health and performance Tyler Williams, another arrival from the Rams. The sports science techniques being applied by Williams and his staff have paid off with a remarkably low number of soft-tissue injuries. The only starter who has missed a game is safety Harrison Smith, who had a concussion. The Vikings have also navigated a long trip to London and a hot visit to Miami.

The kicking game is another critical piece that can quietly make the difference between an average team and a championship contender, and the Vikings under new special teams coordinator Matt Daniels have been thriving on just about every unit.

Rookie punter Ryan Wright had 10 punts for a net average of 43.9 yards against the Dolphins that included a 73-yard boomer from his own end zone that sent speedster Tyreek Hill backpedaling for a 2-yard loss on the return. Wright was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

“One critical error can literally dictate the win or loss of a game. So for us, the mindset going into it is to have a positive impact on the football game every single time we step out there,” Daniels said.

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Behind Enemy Lines: Patrick Peterson makes an impact for Vikings’ new system