Will Adrian Peterson Return to Rushing-Title Form in New Vikings Offense?

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IJune 13, 2014

The combination of Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner and an elite NFL running back has historically been a recipe for rushing titles. 

Turner and Adrian Peterson should be a match made in football heaven. 

Las Vegas appears to agree. Per Pro Football Talk, Peterson is a 4-1 favorite to win the rushing title in 2014. LeSean McCoy, who won the crown last season, is next at 5-1. 

History is on Peterson's side. Five times over Turner's 23 years of coaching offense as a coordinator or head coach, a running back of his has won the NFL's rushing title. Emmitt Smith won three straight from 1991-1993 with Turner as the Cowboys offensive coordinator, Ricky Williams took home the crown in 2002—again with Turner as a coordinator—and LaDainian Tomlinson secured Turner's fifth overall and first as a head coach in 2007.

Peterson, who might just be the most physically dominant running back of this generation, should be given every opportunity to cash in on Turner's arrival in Minnesota with another season atop the NFL's rushing totals.

Peterson has already won the rushing title twice in his career. His 1,760 yards paced the NFL in 2008. Five years later, Peterson recovered from reconstructive knee surgery to rush for a league-high 2,097 yards in 2012. 

It certainly hasn't mattered who was calling plays in Minnesota for Peterson to be productive. 

Adrian Peterson, Career Statistics
Source: pro-football-reference.com

Of his seven NFL seasons, five have finished with Peterson in the top five of rushing. He failed to crack the upper tier in 2010, when his 1,298 rushing yards ranked sixth in the NFL, and again in 2011, when he missed four games to injury and finished with his one and only season without 1,000 rushing yards.

Overall, Peterson has averaged 290 carries, 1,445 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns per season since 2007. 

Barring injury, Turner's presence in Minnesota should give Peterson a chance to beat his yearly averages and once again top the NFL's rushing charts. The Vikings' new offensive coordinator knows how to get the best out of a top back. 

Smith, a future Hall of Famer, averaged 340 carries for 1,587 yards and 13 touchdowns during his three-year reign from 1991-1993. He missed just two games, despite carrying over 1,000 total times and averaging over 25 touches per game. 

Turner gave Smith the league's highest number of carries (365) in 1991 and eight more a year later (373). Smith's best season came in 1992, when he rushed for 1,713 yards and 18 scores while averaging 107.1 rushing yards per game. 

In 2002, Williams—a former Heisman Trophy winner and fifth overall pick—followed in Smith's footsteps. With Turner calling plays, Williams led the league in rushing attempts (383), rushing yards (1,853) and rushing yards per game (115.8). He averaged over 27 touches per game and finished with 2,216 total yards from scrimmage. 

Tomlinson's season in 2007 wasn't as dominant, but his 1,474 rushing yards led the NFL by over 100 yards, and he finished just 10 carries short of the league leader (Clinton Portis, 325). Tomlinson also scored 15 times, which paced all running backs. 

Norv Turner's Five Rushing Title RBs
E. Smith199136515634.31297.7
E. Smith199237317134.618107.1
E. Smith199328314865.39106.1
R. Williams200238318534.816115.8
L. Tomlinson200731514744.71592.1
Source: pro-football-reference.com

Overall, Turner's five backs winning rushing titles have averaged 343.8 carries, 1617.8 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns per season. Peterson has received at least 343 carries just twice in his career; he won rushing titles both seasons. 

Turner knows he has a special player on his hands. 

"I've been fortunate to be around some great ones and I think they all are different, but the one thing they have is that ultimate competitiveness and desire, and certainly Adrian has all those things," Turner said, via Brian Hall of Fox Sports North. 

To be fair, Turner hasn't even needed a transcendent player at the position to get big-time production. 

Over a two-year stretch from 1995-96, Terry Allen rushed for 2,700 yards with 31 touchdowns. Two years later, Stephen Davis began his own two-year stretch in which he led the league in rushing yards per game (93.9) and rushing touchdowns (28). 

In 2005, Lamont Jordan went over 1,000 yards with Turner at the offensive controls. The next season, a young back named Frank Gore rushed 1,695 yards on 312 carries, which still remain career highs for Gore.

In San Diego, Turner oversaw three 1,000-yard seasons from Tomlinson. Also, Mike Tolbert scored 11 times in 2010, and Ryan Mathews rushed for almost 1,100 yards a year later. 

For Turner, getting big numbers from a running back has been a simple task. Get the back 250 or more carries, and the results will follow. 

Over 14 different years, Turner has given one of his running backs at least 250 carries. Those backs averaged 1,422 rushing yards per season. That total would have finished second in the NFL last season. 

Peterson has received 250 or more carries in just five of his seven seasons. But he's averaged 1560.8 yards over those five years, giving more credence to the idea that Peterson is in store for one of his best seasons in 2014. 

Even if Peterson receives a flat total of 250 carries (only twice has he received less than 275) and maintains his career rushing average of 5.0 yards per carry, he'll still finish next season with 1,250 yards. But that seems like the most conservative of estimates if Peterson stays healthy for all 16 games. 

Turner's plan for Peterson involves opening up the field for the dynamic runner. 

"He’s run the ball in closed-in quarters with a lot of defenders there and he makes a lot of long runs, making people miss or running over people," Turner said, via Ben Goessling of ESPN. "It’s hard to do, but we would like to get him in space and getting the field spread a little bit better for for him." 

Part of providing more space for Peterson will have to include better quarterback play and a far more aggressive, attacking game plan. Turner can bring both.

His coaching resume includes work with quarterbacks such as Troy Aikman and Philip Rivers, and Turner somehow managed to make the Cleveland Browns a dangerous passing team in 2013. His run-based, vertical offense will both protect the quarterback position and keep defenses honest—which should mean less eight-men boxes and more space for Peterson in the run game. 

Far too often in recent seasons, the Vikings have played conservative on offense. This ideology has had a two-fold effect: Peterson faced more and more stacked boxes, and in turn, Vikings quarterbacks have dealt with more difficult down-and-distances. Turner won't call offense conservatively. 

The Vikings may not be dynamic at quarterback, as Matt Cassel is a stopgap veteran, and Teddy Bridgewater is being eased into the offense as a rookie. But with Peterson and Turner working together, Minnesota might not need to be great at quarterback, just efficient. 

The Vikings' overall record in the two years Peterson won the rushing title stands at 20-12 (both seasons finishing at 10-6), with one division title and two playoff appearances. The passing game wasn't a big help in either season. In 2008, Minnesota ranked 25th in passing yards. In 2012, it ranked 31st. 

At the top of his game, Peterson can carry an offense almost single-handedly. Having Turner, a master of coaxing the best from top backs, should provide Peterson a golden opportunity to capture his third rushing title in 2014—while also helping the Vikings improve in the win column. 


Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report. 


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