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On a night where future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson returned to Minnesota for the first time as a member of a team that was not the Vikings, his revenge was ultimately spoiled. The Saints and their free-agent addition at running back fell to the Vikings, 29-19. The typically high-flying Saints didn't find the end zone until the fourth quarter.
The insults didn't end there for Peterson. With his team falling behind to the surprisingly deadly Vikings offense, it quickly became apparent that the 32-year old back is merely a role player for the Saints. Peterson was on the field for just nine total plays in his wishful revenge game, falling behind Mark Ingram (25) and even rookie Alvin Kamara (28) in the rotation. All six of his rush attempts came from either the single back or I-formation with a fullback. Even more noticeable, Peterson never went out for a play that featured three wide receivers. That's a massive issue, as 67.8 percent of the Saints offensive plays tonight featured 11-personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs).
If Sean Payton's history is any indication, he'll deploy multiple options in the backfield on a weekly basis and is far from afraid to go with the hot hand. It was clear tonight Peterson was anything but that player tonight. While he certainly wanted to get over on his former team, Peterson was unable to make plays on his own. The one-time All-Pro back averaged just 2.6 yards gained after a defender came within one yard of him (league average -- 3.4)
Clearly still the best back on the roster, Mark Ingram was far better at eluding oncoming defenders, even if the Vikings kept him largely in check, as well. Ingram averaged 3.1 yards gained after a defender came within a yard of him on his rushing plays. Ingram was on the field for 16 total plays where there were three wide receivers. He's the best combination of a two-down banger and passing game outlet currently on the Saints roster.
We know from his college resume and his preseason performances that Kamara is a far more dynamic receiver than his veteran counterparts. A whopping 75 percent of Kamara's snaps came on passing plays and he collected six targets on the night. However, Kamara's Next Gen Stats carry chart showed that he was at least willing to take his rush attempts inside and not bounce everything to the corner store. The rookie posted the best rushing efficiency (raw distance traveled per rush yard gained) among the three Saints backs tonight with a 4.1 mark. Ingram checked in with 5.5, Peterson 5.9 and the league average is 5.8 among running backs (a lower score is more indicative of a running back getting downhill effectively).
If the explosive Kamara continues to show himself capable as a true interior runner, it's fair to wonder exactly how much Peterson will see the field over the rest of the season for the New Orleans Saints. It's just one game, a road trip for the Saints no less, and a player of his resume is tough to write-off, but Peterson looked like the third most valuable running back on his team's depth chart.
Fate had one last twist for the longtime star running back with revenge on his mind tonight. The player essentially tabbed to take the backfield throne Adrian Peterson left behind in Minnesota put on a show in a sustaining performance with a sprinkling of dazzle on Monday Night Football. Dalvin Cook rushed for 127 yards on 22 carries in his NFL debut.
The passing offense, led by a more daring Sam Bradford (8.7 air yards per attempt) and a duo of wide receivers quietly in the conversation for best combo in the game in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, were the story when Minnesota had the ball. Yet, Cook did everything you could possibly ask of a rookie back and more. Cook posted a better rushing efficiency score than any of the Saints backs tonight, checking with a 3.9 figure.
For most of the night he kept the offense on schedule with steady rushing but he provided multiple dagger runs on big plays. Cook ripped off 78 yards on five carries when he ran outside of the right tackle tonight.
The second-round pick out of Florida State looked the part of a multi-year starter who is a positive force for his team. Good backs get what the line blocks for them. It's the great backs who create more yards for themselves. Cook showed an ability to do just that, as he averaged 3.3 yards after a defender came within one yard of him. While the ghost of their past rushing glory walked the opposite sideline, the Vikings got the first glimpse of their still bright future.
We know the never-ending timeline of the National Football League is cruel and it eventually comes to an end for all players. No amount of history, ability or past glory can prevent that. Sometimes the curtain falls in the most thematic fashion possible. On a night where he looked out of place and underused with his new team, the team that sent Adrian Peterson packing this spring enjoyed a gorgeous debut from the rookie they tapped to replace him. Fate does not get much harsher than that.