Eight games into the 2009 NFL season, Minnesota Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson sits where he usually does at this time of year--at or near the top of the league in several meaningful rushing categories. For the Vikings current purposes--making the playoffs and securing home-field advantage--that's simply icing on the cake. Peterson's numbers raise some concern, however, that, should the Vikings find their way to the Super Bowl, they will face a team capable of shutting down the star back and capable, thus, of once again crushing the hopes of Vikings' fans.
In 2008, Peterson amassed 1,760 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns. His numbers in 2009--784 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns--put him on pace to match or eclipse those numbers. But the numbers nevertheless remain somewhat bothersome.
Through two games this season, Peterson had rushed for 272 yards and four touchdowns. Since then, however, against mostly ghastly run defenses, Peterson has tallied a far less impressive 85 yards and .83 touchdowns per game. Those numbers would place Peterson 14th in league in rushing.
More disconcerting, though, is where Peterson's full numbers place him on the whole. With a 4.8 average-yards-per-carry total, Peterson ranks tied for 28th in the league. That, and his consistent problems breaking through the offensive line and finding his way into the endzone in short-yardage situations, suggest at least modest cause for concern should the Vikings ever end their run of games against sub-par defenses.
Clearly, some of Peterson's 2009 statistics are a reflection of the Vikings' willingness and ability to pass more this season than in previous seasons, when operating under the care-taker system of quarterbacking. Last season, Vikings' quarterbacks passed for 2,956 yards and 22 touchdowns. This season, Brett Favre has already thrown for 1,925 yards and 16 touchdowns. With numerous patsies remaining on the team's schedule, it is reasonable to expect Favre's pace to accelerate. But even at his current pace, he would finish the regular season with 3,850 yards passing and 32 touchdown passes. Those numbers bode exceedingly well for the Vikings but take some of the focus, and luster, off of Peterson.
Favres' success helps explain Peterson's plateauing this season. But the running back's problems along the line are more difficult to explain. Peterson frequently fails to find openings--a difficulty particularly evident in goal-line situations. Running behind two first-year starters does not help, but even behind a sometimes suspect offensive line, Peterson ought to find his way into the endzone more than the handful of times that he has in redzone situations this year. That he has not suggests that Peterson either has a lingering injury--which does not appear to be the case--or that he simply is not hitting the hole.
If you're a fantasy player who bet heavily on Peterson this year, you likely overspent. That, however, is not the Vikings' concern. Where the Vikings ought to be concerned, however, is with Peterson's leveling-off in recent weeks against mostly weak opposition. If that trend continues, the Vikings might find themselves up against it should they face a stiffer pass defense in the playoffs that forces Peterson to show that he can do what Vikings' fans have come to expect him to do.
Up Next: Garbage time.