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Peterson's brilliance not helping Vikes' air game

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Peterson's brilliance not helping Vikes' air game

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) When Adrian Peterson lay prone on the Washington turf last December with a shredded left knee, even his most ardent supporters would have had trouble believing he would reclaim his standing as the NFL's best running back just 10 months later.

His remarkable return to prominence has been one of the feel-good stories of the season. It's also shaking the very foundation of the Minnesota Vikings' offensive philosophy, and one of the longest-held tenets in football: that success on the ground will open things up in the passing game.

Peterson is getting better and better every time he steps on the field this season, more closely resembling the powerful cutback runner he was before tearing two ligaments against the Redskins late last season. It's been an incredible recovery, punctuated by three straight 100-yard games, including a breath-taking 144 in the first half alone last week against Seattle.

He finished with 182 yards and two touchdowns against the Seahawks, following up a 123-yard effort against Tampa Bay and 153 against the Arizona Cardinals. He leads the NFL with 957 yards rushing and 1,107 yards from scrimmage, accounting for nearly 37 percent of the Vikings' total offense.

For decades, the belief in the NFL has been that a successful run game will set up big gains down the field by getting safeties to creep up closer to the line of scrimmage and create one-on-one matchups outside. Even in this day and age of pass-happy offenses, the Vikings have stayed committed to that approach.

While Peterson has run better and better each week, the pass offense has been stuck in a downward spiral over the last three weeks. Christian Ponder threw for 58 yards against Arizona, was able to pad his stats in garbage time against Tampa Bay, then managed just 63 yards in the loss at Seattle.

``Usually when you run the ball as well as we're running it, you get some easier route combinations that you can have success with because of the eight- and nine-man fronts that we're getting,'' coach Leslie Frazier said Thursday. ``But it hasn't materialized for us. We're trying to figure that out and trying to capitalize on how well we're running the ball, which creates a lot of single-safety situations for our offense to see.''

The problems are many. Receivers are having difficulty creating separation, Ponder has been woefully inaccurate with his throws and the Vikings (5-4) have struggled at times to pick up the blitz and keep their quarterback protected while losing three of their last four games.

Put quite simply, opposing defenses are not viewing the Vikings' downfield passing game as a threat. That means they're not biting on play-action fakes as hard as they did early in the season, not having to commit a safety to double-teaming any of their receivers and therefore are able to turn loose extra pass rushers to put as much heat as possible on Ponder, who has looked skittish in the pocket.

``It just comes down to needing to execute and be more balanced on offense,'' center John Sullivan said. ``Obviously we're committed to running the football. We're going to do that in every game we play. Theoretically it should open up the passing game. That hasn't been happening. Our focus this week is trying to get the pass game going while continuing to do what we've been doing in the run game.''

Peterson vowed to be ready for Week 1 of the season, but there were plenty of skeptics. He scored two touchdowns and rushed for 84 yards in the opener against Jacksonville, but it was apparent he was missing just a little bit of that top gear that made him so special before the injury.

He grinded out some games against Indianapolis and San Francisco before topping 100 yards for the first time at Detroit, but was still looking for the big breakaway runs that were a hallmark of his first five years in the league. They've started to come in the last two games. He scored on a 64-yard run against the Bucs, then ripped off a 74-yarder while averaging 10.7 yards per carry against the Seahawks.

``It's a little frustrating,'' Peterson said after the game. ``You just see what you can do and see how you can improve and go from there. That's going to be our focus point; establish the run and try to be more productive in the pass game. It's obvious we didn't have a big game passing. But we'll work on it.''

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said he is re-examining the routes his receivers are running, the protections being assigned to the offensive line and running backs and everything else to try to get the passing offense going.

``We're not at all pleased with our production. We need to get back on track,'' Musgrave said. ``Everybody can sense that. We're very disappointed. Not at all discouraged, but very driven and determined to get it back on track.''

It could be made more difficult this week against the Lions if star receiver Percy Harvin is unable to play because of a sprained left ankle. He was still hobbling around Thursday and appeared to be a long shot to practice Friday. Peterson missed practice as well with an illness, but is expected to play against the Lions.

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NASCAR at New Hampshire: everything you need to know about racing this weekend

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NASCAR at New Hampshire: everything you need to know about racing this weekend

Still not over that finish from Kentucky Speedway? Good, us either. NASCAR is right back after it this weekend in the Granite State and New Hampshire Motor Speedway for some short-track summer action.

Here's what we're watching for on Sunday afternoon in the Foxwoods Resort 301 (3 p.m. EST on NBCSN).

NEW HAMPSHIRE STATISTICS
New Hampshire Motor Speedway: 1.058-mile oval in Loudon, N.H.
Race information: 318.46 miles, 301 laps
Stage lengths: 75 laps, 75 laps, 151 laps
Defending winner: Kevin Harvick
Most wins: Jeff Burton (4)

WEEKEND SCHEDULE

NEW HAMPSHIRE MOTOR SPEEDWAY

Friday, July 19

12:05 – 12:55 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN)

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

3:35 – 4:25 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

4:35 p.m. – Cup qualifying (single vehicle/two laps all positions) (NBCSN, Performance Racing Network)

Saturday, July 20

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. – Cup practice (CNBC)

11:15 a.m. – Xfinity qualifying (single vehicle/two laps all positions) (NBCSN)

12:35 – 1:25 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN)

4 p.m. – Roxor 200 Xfinity race (stages 45/90/200 laps = 211.6 miles) (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, July 21

3 p.m. – Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 (stages 75/150/301 laps = 318.46 miles) (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Is It Time For SHR To Panic?

Past the halfway point in the 2019 season, Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing and Spire Motorsports (!) have visited Victory Lane.

Notably absent is Stewart-Haas Racing.

2014 Monster Energy Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick had five wins at this point last season, Clint Bowyer had two, and the duo of Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch had been running consistently inside the top five and top 10. This season, they're a step behind.

Whether it's the adjustment to the new Ford Mustang or the new aerodynamic rules package for this season, SHR is behind, there's no sugarcoating it.

Although Harvick is safely in the playoffs, Almirola is in but does not have a large buffer, Bowyer is on the bubble and Daniel Suarez is on the outside looking in.

Harvick did win this race last season, and another checkered flag for the No. 4 camp this weekend would go a long way confidence wise for the organization.

More Sticky Stuff

PJ1 is back, and it seems here to stay.

The sticky adhesive that was put down last weekend in Kentucky, as well as multiple times last season, has been applied at NHMS and will be applied next weekend at Pocono Raceway as well. The adhesive is in hopes to create more racing lines and in turn, a better on track product.

With temparatures this weekend reaching upwards of triple digits, the PJ1 will become more active earlier on. The hotter it is, the more grip the substance has.

Lobstah

New England NASCAR trips and somewhat cringeworthy New England NASCAR accents go hand in hand. Like it or not, that's part of it, right?

The winner of each NHMS race gets a big ole lobster to celebrate with. But don't give one to Denny Hamlin. We remember what happened to him a couple years back, right?

2019 NASCAR STANDINGS

Next week, NASCAR heads to the Pocono Raceway for the second time this season for the Gander Outdoors 400 on Sunday, July 28 at 3:30 p.m. EST on NBCSN.

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Nationals Roundup: Late Victor Robles magic not enough as Braves walk-off Nats

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Nationals Roundup: Late Victor Robles magic not enough as Braves walk-off Nats

As you would expect a first-place NL East team to do, the Atlanta Braves bounced back to even the series with Washington Friday night inside SunTrust Park. Josh Donaldson erased Victor Robles' game-tying, two-run home run with his walk-off single in the ninth. Atlanta improved to 59-40 and increased its lead over the Nationals to 6.5 games with a 4-3 final. 

Consider these notes as Washington grinds through a pivotal series in Atlanta: 

Player Notes:

Washington's first-year lefty didn't have his best stuff going Friday night in Atlanta. Patrick Corbin tossed just five innings allowing eight hits, two runs, two walks on 100 pitches. He struck out five Braves on his 30th birthday. 

The Nationals' third baseman has brought new meaning to the word 'consistency' all year long in his first season as an All-Star. Two games into this four-game series in Atlanta, Anthony Rendon has five hits, a walk, and 2 RBI.  

Victor Robles brought the fireworks in the ninth at SunTrust Park. The 22-year-old delivered a game-tying, two-run home run off Luke Jackson. The long-ball traveled a whopping 446 feet. 

The Fernando Rodney experience was alive and well. Davey Martinez made the questionable decision to bring his 42-year-old back out in the ninth for a second consecutive inning. It backfired. Just 14 of his 32 pitches were thrown for strikes. 

Injuries: 

SP Max Scherzer: Back, Expected to be out until at least Jul 25

RP Jonny Venters: Back, Expected to be out until at least Jul 26

SP Jeremy Hellickson: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 20

RP Justin Miller: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 20

RP Koda Glover: Elbow, Expected to be out until at least Aug 7

RP Austen Williams: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 26

Coming Up:

Saturday 7/20: Nationals at Braves, 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park 

Sunday 7/21: Nationals at Braves, 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park 

Monday 7/22: Nationals vs. Rockies, 7:05 p.m., Nationals Park 

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: