Adrian Peterson said his goal for the 2013 season was to rush for 2,500 yards. He didn't get off to too bad of a start.
Taking his first handoff of the season from Christian Ponder, Peterson bounced through a hole between the left guard and tackle, made one right cut at the second level and then turned on the jets to outrun a litany of Detroit Lions defenders for a 78-yard touchdown. The only player who got a finger on the Vikings running back was Chris Houston, long after Peterson had ramped it down.
The run was jarringly familiar. It was almost a carbon copy of the ones Peterson broke off with regularity last season, when he came nine yards short of setting the NFL single-season rushing record.
That first carry seemed to indicate we were just in store for more record-setting brilliance. His remaining 17 carries could be a better indicator of what's to come not only for the reigning league MVP but the Minnesota Vikings as well.
Minnesota was outscored by Detroit 34-17 after that initial run, as Peterson finished the game with 18 carries for 93 yards and two rushing touchdowns. He added four receptions for 18 yards, including a four-yard touchdown. If you took Peterson No. 1 overall in your fantasy draft or spent heavy for him in your auction, you're probably feeling pretty damn good right now.
The problem, as Grantland's Bill Barnwell points out, is there's a pretty big difference between real-life production and fantasy production:
Good thing about Adrian Peterson's day is that you can tell who's looking at the fantasy football scoreboard and who's watching the game.— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) September 8, 2013
After his first carry of the game, the 28-year-old back added just 15 more over his next 17 carries. The following are the yardage gained in each subsequent attempt: 2, -3, -4, 4, -3, -4, no gain, 2, 1, 7, 2, -1, 5, 1, 1, 3.
Not one gain longer than seven yards. Only two longer than four. He had six carries that went nowhere or for negative yardage. Peterson began the first half with a 78-yard run. He finished it with 70 yards on eight carries.
Taken as a whole, Peterson had a good statistical game. You can't discount his opening carry, just as you can't write off any of the subsequent ones. If he wishes to break the 2,500-yard barrier, he'll need to rush for about 160.5 yards per game going forward. To break the rushing record held by Eric Dickerson, the number drops down to 134.2 per contest.
We all know that's not impossible after watching Peterson astound in the second half last season. But plenty of smart people have spent the entire offseason warning folks in Minneapolis that a repeat performance wasn't coming, and I'm more inclined to believe the 17-carry sample over one. (I know it's all a small sample. This is Week 1. Everything is a small sample. Duh.)
The problems with Peterson are twofold. One is history, which we've spent the entire offseason reading about. If you haven't been so inclined to take a look at the numbers, I've provided a chart below of how the players have fared.
|O.J. Simpson||1974||270 Carries, 1,125 Yards, 3 TDs|
|Eric Dickerson||1985||292 Carries, 1,234 Yards, 12 TDs|
|Barry Sanders||1998||343 Carries, 1,491 Yards, 4 TDs|
|Terrell Davis||1999||67 Carries, 211 Yards, 2 TDs|
|Jamal Lewis||2004||235 Carries, 1,006 Yards, 7 TDs|
|Chris Johnson||2010||316 Carries, 1,364 Yards, 11 TDs|
Barry Sanders jumps out as the obvious outlier there, and he "only" rushed for 1,491 yards. Then he retired. Because...well, I'm still not even sure why.
But we all know the first rule of these things: Past performance is not always an indicator of future performance. The real reason why Peterson might want to expect a downturn for himself (and on the scoreboard) comes from elements out of his control.
Most notably, Ponder didn't suddenly develop into a good NFL quarterback over the offseason. He finished 18-of-28 passing for 238 yards, not terrible until you see the turnover column. Showing glimpses of the futility that nearly sunk the Vikings last season, Ponder was picked off three times and coughed the ball up once on a fumble.
Granted, one of those interceptions wasn't Ponder's fault. He threw a nice pass to an open Jerome Simpson, who dropped the ball into the hands of DeAndre Levy. That pick isn't on Ponder, regardless of where it shows up on the stat sheet.
Ponder's other turnovers? In the words of Drake, "All Me." The one that finished the first-half drives for Minnesota? Yeah, that was quintessential Ponder. He threw a pass intended for Greg Jennings that might as well have been a birthday gift for Stephen Tulloch. Joe Webb thought Ponder was taking a risk there.
Things could have been even worse. Lions rookie Ezekiel Ansah strip-sacked Ponder in the third quarter, only to have it called back because he was offsides. Still, four turnovers in Week 1 sure isn't a great start.
Ponder's struggles are, of course, passed on to Peterson. Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham loaded the box with eight or nine men multiple times on running downs, giving the old WWE heel move to Leslie Frazier and begging him to hit him (throw). When the Vikings kept handing the ball to Peterson, he found a wall of defenders, led by one of the league's most promising defensive lines.
None of this is changing any time soon. Minnesota could eventually take the ball out of Ponder's hands and give it to Matt Cassel. Only Cassel is pretty much an early prototype of Ponder. The Vikings have no help for Peterson; Greg Jennings doesn't make a difference when the man throwing can't get him the ball.
Now I'm being negative purposefully for a point. Peterson is still going to wind up somewhere in the top 10 in rushing yards and touchdowns and is still going to give you good value in fantasy leagues. He's a future Hall of Famer; that's what they do.
But it's time for a reality check. Peterson, for all of his superhero antics, has too many factors working against him to single-handedly lift Minnesota to the postseason for a second straight year.
His 2012 campaign was a brilliant historical anomaly that captivated everyone and stamped his gold jacket ceremony. His 78-yard touchdown run on Sunday's season-opening carry opened the window that he could do it again.
The next 17 started proving what we'll find out in 2013: Not even Superman can save Christian Ponder.
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