Why the Vikings Will Stop Adrian Peterson from Reaching 2,000 Yards Again
Adrian Peterson had an unreal 2012, falling just shy of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, earning NFL MVP honors and doing so after an amazingly quick recovery from massive knee injuries.
However, he is not likely to surpass 2,000 yards again this season.
That's not "hating." It's reality.
So is this—when he fails it will be because of the Vikings, not Peterson.
Because at the end of the day, they cannot have him carry the ball 348 times if they want to make it further than they did in 2012.
Of course, Peterson will have a hard time replicating anyway.
Six other players have rushed for more than 2,000 yards—Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, Jamal Lewis, Terrell Davis, Chris Johnson and O.J. Simpson—and none of them ever did it again. In fact, only Sanders, Dickerson and Simpson even came within 200 yards of the 2,000 yard mark and each only came that close once.
However, the weight of all that history really won't be what does Peterson in this year.
Here's what will.
The Vikings need to find balance
Last season the Vikings ran the ball 401 times with their running backs, compared to 483 pass attempts by Christian Ponder.
Just on the surface that's an insane amount of carries.
Digging deeper, the Vikings just cannot function as they did last year. They are desperate for balance on the offense. While Peterson outmaneuvered eight and nine men in a box, it's not the team's preference.
They don't want him to abuse his body that way and they know that he can actually be effective with less carries if they can get the passing game going.
Besides that, they need to find out if Christian Ponder has what it takes to be their franchise quarterback. They won't find that out by running the ball.
They need to know which is the real Ponder: The guy who threw for 270 yards against Jacksonville Week 1, three touchdowns against Green Bay in a critical Week 17 game and 352 yards against Washington in Week 6? Or the guy who threw four interceptions in three games during Weeks 12, 13 and 14 and the guy who threw for sub-200 yards in nine of 16 games?
Of course, if they do have to run Peterson as much or more than last year, they pretty much have their answer.
More passing weapons
Ultimately though, that's not the plan. We know this because the team made three very large moves to get Ponder weapons to improve his passing game.
Of course, sometimes you move backwards to get going forward.
Trading Percy Harvin was the long-awaited end to a tumultuous few seasons. Yes, losing Harvin is hard on a quarterback (and let's be honest, the last thing anyone wanted was to see a guy like Russell Wilson acquire him as a target) but it opened the way for making this offense stronger in the end.
The trade netted an extra first-rounder while moving a guy who apparently just wasn't happy. Harvin is a very talented player but for whatever reason, he wasn't content in Minnesota. Maybe it was money, maybe it was the offense—heck, maybe it was the snow.
Ultimately, the reason was irrelevant.
Acquiring that extra first-round pick—and some cap room (Harvin now counts for less than a million in cap space)—set up the next two moves.
The most critical of which was signing Greg Jennings to a five-year, $45 million contract (only $5 million of which will hit this year, according to Spotrac).
The Vikings have lacked a vertical threat for years and if Jennings can stay healthy, he could open things up from the outside and give Ponder a long distance weapon he wouldn't have had otherwise.
Just as critical was that extra first rounder, which eventually turned into Xavier Rhodes, a pick which will help the defense immeasurably and keep things close so Ponder isn't throwing constantly from behind.
Both of the Vikings' initial first-round picks went to the defensive side of the ball, and as things broke—with both Rhodes and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd lingering on the board long past when they should have—the team was ready to leave the first having drastically improved their lot.
However, it also meant that they had the luxury of rolling the dice, and as Cordarrelle Patterson dropped towards the end of the first round, that's just what they did.
Patterson is incredibly raw but has huge upside. He also is deadly running after the catch.
It's unfair (and sort of nuts) to say Patterson is immediately going to replace Percy Harvin. However, he does help fill the void left behind this year and could actually end up as good—perhaps even better—than Harvin.
All of which is a significant investment in a passing offense which—let's be honest—lingered somewhere between mediocre and horrific most days.
If they were going to run Peterson into the ground, they'd have spent all their picks on blocking tight ends, tackles and large fullbacks.
Worried about AD's load
Now, you and I (and AD) know that there's no guarantee he'll finish that contract but in theory this is a guy the team would like to have about for a long time.
That's not someone you want to run into the ground.
Sure, Peterson had back-to-back 300 plus carry seasons early in his career but the team eased way off on the throttle after that. You don't want to lean that heavily on a 28-year-old running back who is a year-and-a-half removed from catastrophic knee surgery.
That's not to say I expect Peterson to be injured or even shut down; merely that 348 carries is a ton for anyone and more than likely the team will want to pull him back to somewhere sub-300 to keep him at his best and healthy for more than just this season.
Part of building a passing offense is to take some of the burden from Peterson so that he can continue to be a viable cornerstone of their offense for several years to come.
Peterson has set the lofty goals of topping 2,500 yards and getting a Super Bowl ring. That's two tall orders and one might preclude the other. While Peterson might be capable of the first (he either needs to up his yards per carry well above the career-high six yards per carry or run for more than 348 carries), there's a good chance he won't get the latter if that happens.
The Vikings know this, and really so does Peterson. So when the team keeps him from reaching 2,000 you won't hear him complain. You won't hear him grouse or see him point fingers.
Peterson will stay team focused and keep his eyes on the prize.
Because ultimately he knows 1,500 yards this season can be as valuable to his team—maybe even more so—that 2,000.
Andrew Garda is the former NFC North Lead Writer and a current NFL Analyst and video personality for Bleacher Report. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.
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