Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Do Vikings Have Reason to Worry About Peterson's Production?

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.


Peter said...

My hope is that any team that's able to effectively shut Favre down will have opened the door to Peterson and will pay dearly. It seems that opponents continue to pick Favre as their poison, but if Favre does throw nearly 4000 yards and 30+ touchdowns, he'll have opponents' defensive attention in the playoffs. That SHOULD let Peterson shine.

If my optimism hurts me again this year, I might be a much more passive fan of the team for a few years.

ajj90 said...

It is far too early to get worried about Peterson's production. Teams are figuring out that you can't give up your gap assignments when trying to catch Peterson so there isn't as many opportunities to hit the outside when an inside run is called like in years passed. Teams used to over-pursue Peterson which made a bounce out easier. Peterson has opened the door to let Favre have possibly the best start in his entire career. If you told me that Favre would have 16 touchdowns and only 3 INT's (two of them were bobbled passes) at this point of the season I wouldn't believe it. I credit Peterson for that production.

vikes geek said...


I agree. Teams are still daring the Vikings to pass. At some point, logic should will out and compel teams to guard against the pass. If and when that happens, Peterson ought to run wild.

There are two aspects to Peterson's game that remain troubling, however. One has little to do with Peterson, the other is simply inexplicable.

Although Peterson is prolific whenever permitted to be part of the screen game, he still rarely is involved in such plays. There is no reason not to run 8-10 screens to Peterson every game.

Equally confounding is Peterson's persistence in running into the line rather than picking his hole. Understanding the immediacy of the situation, it is still difficult to comprehend Peterson's utter lack of impatience when running between the tackles. Moreover, it is curious that the Vikings remain completely willing to call rushing plays between the tackles--where Peterson is at his weakest and most prone to injury--while refusing to expand Peterson's role on screen plays, where he arguably is at his best and least likely to get injured.


vikes geek said...


I agree with the assessment that Peterson can be credited with a great deal of Favre's success--though probably not to the same degree. Even in the face of blitzes, Favre is able to get rid of the ball. That's simply something that lesser quarterbacks such as Tarvaris Jackson struggle to do. It certainly helps Favre, however, to have the defense pre-occupied.

You might be right regarding whether it is too early to worry about AP's production. But, then again, we are one-half of the way through the season. And if the question cannot be raised now, then when?

Last year, teams were allowed to show zero respect for the Vikings' passing game. This year, they are at least required to play man. That still allows teams to cheat in the box if they are willing to give up the hot read. As long as that is Kleinsausage, that's a fair trade. When it's Percy Harvin, that's another story, however. If Peterson is not going to break out under such conditions, under what conditions ought we expect such a break-out?

I suspect that, once the season is over, the Vikings will reveal that Peterson played much of this season with some form of leg injury. That would help explain the dramatic drop-off after week one and the team's unwillingness to make better use of him.


ajj90 said...


Agree totally that we might not be having this conversation if Peterson was used more like Westbrook of the past in the screen game. I don't think it is a matter of the tread being off the tires of Peterson which I assumed was part of your thought based on your original post. I agree totally that he is mis/underused in the offense. Peterson has had tendencies in the past to be bottled up for stretches (albeit a lot shorter stretches then this year). I think it is feasible to think Peterson could go on a tear for 200+ yards rushing for a game or two and it would redirect our discussion on this team right back where it should be and that is why does the defense seem to give up so many points late in games? Why can't they put away the Ravens team with a dagger in the heart. Why does it have to come down to the wire against the Packers twice when the evidence suggests that the Vikings have the clear athletic advantage? Why do two late drive redzone turnovers become necessary for our defense to stop the Rams horrible offense. I haven't analyzed tape or anything but are the Vikings changing their defensive approach late in games? Is the defense getting tired late in games? Does the defense have tendencies that late in games is easy to figure out and defeat? These are my major concerns for a team that offensively averages pretty good/great numbers with or without the productivity potential fully being tapped from Adrian Peterson.

Peter said...


Yes, the Vikings DO change their plan late in games, specifically when they have a lead. Frazier implements a soft cover-2 designed to bend (not break) and force the other team to eat clock by protecting the perimeters and far end of the field. Unfortunately, the secondary is such that opponents can throw short passes at/beyond the LBs and the defense allows a big play. I see poor angles and poor tackling on these plays, leading to too much scoring, and too quickly at that.

Peter said...

This is funny in light of the nature of this post:

"Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson has improved his patience in waiting for holes to open up, writes Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press."

Um, huh?

vikes geek said...

Maybe Jensen meant "since the Vikings last played."


J. Lichty said...

Of course, the zone stretch is a poor match for an impatient runner, which does not designate a hole but rather calls for the runner to find creases.

Not surprisingly, anecdotally it seems to me that the majority of Peterson's long runs are not to the point of attack but rather, him running into traffic and cutting back to the non-play side where contain is either abandoned, or inadequate to stop him from getting to the second and third level in a hurry.

What that shows is that of course he needs to be utilized in the short passing game on screens and swings designed to get him into space. Would love to see him even lining up in slot with Taylor in backfield (although hard to wrestle that from Harvin who has been even better than I expected).

vikes geek said...


Long time.

I agree and I've been calling for Peterson to be used in the passing game since he joined the team. One of the considerations the Vikings ought to afford themselves when deciding whether to re-sign Childress is the extent to which he is able to adapt. His stubborness rivals that of Tice and is particularly evident--quarterbacking aside--with respect to his use of Peterson. There is no reason not to use Peterson in the slot with Taylor in the backfield. None. But Childress refuses, so Vikings' fans will be left to wonder what might have been had Childress made full use of the talent on this team.