Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings is the NFL’s scariest player. A man who beat all odds by simply stepping on the field and rushing for 84 yards and two touchdowns did something more impressive: he won an MVP as a running back. He hits linebackers harder than they can hit him; he came nine yards short of the rushing record and appeared to have no idea; he embarrasses strong defenses and weak defenses alike by either juking defenders out of the shoes or forcefully knocking their shoes off like a car hit them. The way he runs is spectacular; the amount of yards he put up is nothing short of amazing.
Coverage abound, you can’t mention his record without an asterisk: *he came off an ACL tear. What he has done is ridiculous.
Still, the featured asterisk should be: *he did it in a year where five quarterbacks were 300 yards away from reaching 5,000 total passing yards (Drew Brees reached 5,000 and Matthew Stafford was three yards away).
Experts around the U.S. have written that the NFL is a passing league. The Super Bowl is a prime example: Joe Flacco passed for 287 yards and three touchdowns, while top five running back Ray Rice ran for 59 yards on 20 carries with no touchdowns. The Raven’s offense looked good when they were passing, not rushing.
There are two sides to the coin (of being a running back in a passing league).
While the passing oriented league might make it near impossible for a Saints running back to rush for 2,000 yards, the passing NFL made it easier for the Viking’s Peterson to rush for his 2,097.
Most people may think that it’s harder to rush for all those yards in a league when everyone is passing minded, remember that Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder threw for under 3,000 passing yards. It’s not like the Vikings are throwing the ball a ton. Adrian Peterson rushed for the 348 attempts, not too far off from Ponder’s 483 passing attempts.
Week to week, NFC North (which consists of the Vikings, the Packers, the Bears, and the Lions) defensive coordinators game plan against strong quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Jay Cutler. Outside of their division, the have opponents like Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Colts Andrew Luck, the Texan’s Matt Shuab, even Seahawks’ Russell Wilson. The list should give you a sense of the high level of passers that NFC teams face.
Then they play the Vikings – a team that plays hard-nosed ground and pound football. Some teams, like the New York Jets, claim to have a similar tactic, but no one truly follows it. But the Vikings do. As I said, they have the scariest man in football and they give the ball to him as much as possible.
So in this passing league, the Vikings game plan throws other teams’ defenses off balance. Most teams use the run to set up the pass. The Vikings often use the run… to run more. Counter plays, cutbacks, reverses, fake reverses, draw plays are all nice and good. And yes, the Vikings use them. But Adrian Peterson seems to run best when he is the only back in the backfield, and the Vikings just let him run.