From the time that Adrian Peterson first arrived in Minnesota, Minnesota Vikings' fans have been treated to a common chorus from NFL commentators, both locally and nationally. The mantra has been that Adrian Peterson is one of the most gifted backs ever to play the game. Many even, however myopically, have compared Peterson to the legendary Jim Brown.
Three plus years into his NFL career, and already as close to the end of that career as he is to the beginning, Peterson has yet to merit such loud pronouncements. In a league in which numerous young runners are more than besting Peterson's production on a week to week basis, the time has come for the Vikings and Peterson to figure things out--to determine if Peterson is closer to the Chris Johnsons of the NFL than to the Pierre Thomases. As of today, the answer to that question is not as evident as it appeared when Peterson took the Bears to the shed for nearly 300 yards nearly three years ago.
With four very good running backs yet to play this week, Peterson already sits at number seven on the week in rushing yardage production and outside the top ten in yards-per-carry average. That's certainly the hallmark of a good running back, but it's not the sign of an elite running back, and certainly not evidence of the successor to the likes of Jim Brown.
Since Peterson's presumed watershed game against the San Diego Chargers in his rookie season, the Vikings' running back has rushed for over 3,000 yards, yet his yards-per-carry figures have dropped every year and his overall yardage dropped 25% last season from his 2008 production. The Vikings and their mouthpieces continue to trot out the same tired lines that the opposition is keying on Peterson and stuffing the box, daring the Vikings to pass. The claim not only is no longer accurate, it is also irrelevant.
When Brett Favre showed opposing teams that he could pass the Vikings down the field and to victory, opponents began peeling back on their men in the box and approached the Vikings with a more even defensive hand, honoring the pass as well as the run. Still, Peterson's numbers declined from a year earlier, and dramatically so in terms of overall yardage. Given a new, multi-faceted offense, quite the opposite should have occurred with an elite running back.
The continuing explosiveness of Chris Johnson and the success of running backs such as Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles, Jerome Harrison, and Shon Green, among others, suggests either that Peterson simply is not what he has been touted to be or that Peterson and the Vikings have failed to get the most out of the running back. If the latter is happening and the Vikings are winning, all is forgiven. If the latter is happening and the Vikings are losing and failing to factor their purported most dominant offensive threat into the offensive game plan in the final half of a close contest against an expected challenger for the NFC Championship, all is in question.
Starting with the game this week against the Miami Dolphins, it is time for the Vikings to figure out how to use Peterson (including employing him in a substantial role as a receiver in the screen game) and it is time for Peterson to produce in accordance with what he believes himself to be as a running back in the NFL.
Up Next: Paying and Not Paying--Old Ways and New Ways?