Adrian Peterson’s credentials and resume are sterling and unquestionable. He’s a bionic force of consistency in a league where the running back is effectively a temp job.
Peterson has carried the ball in 122 games in his NFL career, amassing more than 2,400 carries — 722 more carries than the ageless wonder in Pittsburgh, 33-year-old running back DeAngelo Williams.
Peterson is so past his logical expiry date that it’s easy to forget that one still exists. His injury gives us an easy checkpoint, but Peterson has hardly been his best self since the Vikings’ 12th game of the 2015 season.
Since that point, he’s rushed 121 times in seven regular-season games (17 times a game) and has only gone for 3.06 yards per carry (371 total yards.)
Adding last year’s playoff loss to Seattle, where Peterson averaged 1.96 yards per carry on 23 attempts, and you can make the argument that Peterson has been a weak link in the Vikings offense.
There’s no question that Peterson is a better running back than backups Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, but Peterson also carries expectations — for better or for worse, the Vikings have given the ball to Peterson roughly 20 times a game for the last 10 years. That’s worked out splendidly more often than not, but lately, that expectation has been detrimental.
The Vikings’ offense might open up more with Peterson out of the lineup. McKinnon is a fun option in the passing game, and Asiata is a more-than-capable between-the-tackles runner, giving the Vikings some versatility out of the backfield that, for all of Peterson’s brilliance, they’ve lacked.
The notion that the Vikings head into Sunday’s game with the defending NFC Champion Panthers as “one-dimensional” is misguided. We don’t know what the Vikings offense will look like sans-Peterson, but the offense that took the field with him wasn’t anything worth replicating.
It might be a few weeks before we know what the Vikings’ offense will really be, because Minnesota would be foolish to do anything but throw the ball this weekend.
Carolina’s secondary though the first two weeks of the season has been average at best, and given its talent, that might be the best-case scenario. Safeties Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston have been downright woeful so far this year, and while cornerback Bené Benwikere has played well, he has a rookie on the other side of the field, James Bradberry, who has looked up-and-down through two games. These are not the Panthers that nearly went undefeated last season.
Sam Bradford’s success throwing the ball to Stefon Diggs last week was no accident, and Minnesota should have the opportunity to replicate it Sunday. And in the NFC North, with vulnerable pass defenses in Green Bay, Chicago, and Detroit, that’s a viable long-term plan, especially if they can get Charles Johnson going on the other side of the field.
Good teams are versatile and take what the defense gives them. Now that the Vikings aren’t going to give the ball to Peterson 20 times a game, they have a chance to look up and realize that defenses around the league are giving them a lot. There’s potential with that offense, and we’re about to see how much.