The 2012 surprise Vikings' playoff visit ended with a thud. We watched as Joe Webb showed us that Christian Ponder might not be so bad. Webb completed only 11 of 30 passes, and his lone TD pass came when the game was already 24-3 Packers. Just a week earlier Ponder had thrown for three touchdowns as Minnesota scored 37 points in a victory over their hated rival. The loss was not shocking, but it was definitely a case of "what could have been". Without Ponder, MVP Adrian Peterson was given extreme attention by the Green Bay defense. Minnesota became one-dimensional on offense. On defense, Aaron Rodgers picked apart a rag-tag secondary to the tune of 274 yards.
Minnesota, which had snuck in the playoffs with a season-ending four game win streak, was finished.
The off-season started poorly. CB Antoine Winfield, rightly unhappy about a lack of an offer, left Minnesota for Seattle. Then, WR Percy Harvin, coming off of a solid season, decided he did not like playing for the Purple. He was whisked away to Seattle for a group of draft picks, including a first-rounder in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Minnesota entered the draft with serious holes to fill at CB, QB, WR, and MLB (with the departure of E.J. Henderson). On top of that, there was growing concern that DT Kevin Williams was beginning the end of his great career, and there was no "blue-chip" replacement for his key position in the 4-3 defense. Further, many felt the Vikings should use one of the two first-round draft choices to solidify the quarterback position, as Webb had demonstrated the talent pool was only one player deep.
Enter Rick Spielman.
In the course of a few months, highlighted by the NFL Draft, Spielman seemingly fixed everything. You lose aging but solid Winfield? No problem, we draft Xavier Rhodes. Missing Percy Harvin? How about the SEC all-purpose yardage leader Cordarelle Patterson. Kevin Williams' age is concerning? No worries, let's add Sharrif Floyd. Spielman added a third first-round pick in the draft and took care of three major needs.
But there were still critics.
Some complained that we did not fix the quarterback issue. What if Ponder crumbles? We had a chance to upgrade the most important position and we passed... Also, who was going to play middle linebacker? Minnesota decided not to draft a few solid inside linebackers in the early stages of the draft and now were praying that Brian Urlacher wanted to jump ship and be healthy at the same time. Why not use key picks for these two vital positions?
Further, even before Harvin left for Seattle there was concern about wide receiver. None of the other receivers did much of anything, and the collection of rookies and journeymen produced little. And now without Harvin, Minnesota might be resigned to running the ball and looking for TE Kyle Rudolph too much.
Do not fear, Spielman is here.
Spielman maneuvered through free agency the signing of two former Packers. Greg Jennings was signed to fill the gaping hole at receiver. Desmond Bishop was later added to shore up the linebacker position. Both have question marks surrounding them about age and/or injury, but the talents are hard to ignore. Jennings finished the 2012 season with near 300 yards and four touchdowns in his final four games to silence concerns that his impressive career was waning. Bishop, who missed the 2012 season with serious injury, had admirably replaced Nick Barnett at MLB, and was instrumental in the Green Bay Super Bowl victory over the Steelers in 2011.
And now they were both Vikings. There is a certain feeling of satisfaction when Green Bay players come to Minnesota. Ryan Longwell, Brett Favre, Darren Sharper... the list was already healthy before the 2013 off-season. Now, it feels like some type of action plan. Hone your skills in Wisconsin, and enjoy them in Minnesota.
And for icing on the cake, Spielman snagged veteran quarterback Matt Cassel from Kansas City. Cassel has had some success in the NFL, He had ten win seasons in both New England and Kansas City. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2010. This appeased the Ponder critics somewhat. For we Ponder faithful, it gave us assurance that Joe Webb would not be backing up Ponder in 2013.
And so the 2013 Training Camp open in Mankato. This will be the 48th year Minnesota has trained at Minnesota State. There is much to follow this summer. Who will win the starting middle linebacker job? Is Patterson capable of making us forget Harvin's exciting kick returns? Will Ponder improve? Which defensive backs will step up to fight Green Bay (and others) three and four receiver sets? How good is this Floyd kid?
And many more...
But one thing I am not questioning. Do we have the right guy behind the desk?
As I read the articles on Percy Harvin's placement on the PUP list and Packer coach McCarthy's retorts to Greg Jennings' observations regarding his former team, I can answer a whole-hearted YES.
With the trading of Percy Harvin for multiple draft picks in the next two years, the Vikings had added fan attention/concern to the upcoming NFL Draft. It was painfully obvious Minnesota lacked wide receiver talent in 2012, Letting go the only receiver to perform well last year seemed insane. But when players express a desire to be traded, the reality is they are probably not worth much to you. Getting a first round pick (among others) was better than could have been hoped.
And now with the signing of Greg Jennings, another in a slew of former-Packers players who seem to want to play for their rival, it seems Minnesota has already addressed the loss of Harvin in part. And with the 23rd and 25th pick in the upcoming draft, are poised to further amend the neediest of positions on the present roster. For after Jennings, the next most-highly regarded receiver is probably Jarius Wright. Or perhaps Jerome Simpson. You see the problem?
We need receivers now.
That is not the only need unfortunately. With Jasper Brinkley leaving for Arizona, there is an immediate hole at the vital position of middle linebacker. There has been talk of stealing Brian Urlacher away from another rival, the Chicago Bears. WLB Erin Henderson, entering his 6th year, is also a concern to some fans. Only Chad Greenway is above reproach at SLB, and he in his 8th season and thirty years old.
We might need a linebacker or two.
Antoine Winfield, easily the most consistent performing cornerback, was let go to free salary cap room. At thirty-five years old, Winfield is in the twilight of his career. Yet he would have been a starter for certain, Chris Cook and Josh Robinson give fans hope for a good future. A.J. Jefferson and Marcus Sherels remind us of how badly we need the aforementioned corners to stay healthy. Brandon Burton should be in the equation in 2013, and Sherels is a decent return guy, but even a blind man can see the need for help here.
Cornerback is in Spielman's front brain.
Adrian Peterson is entering his 7th season, and coming off of one of the greatest seasons in football history (and that is not hyperbole). He is in the prime of his career. The front line did an admirable job helping him find holes. They did less of a job protecting a skittish Christian Ponder. The loss of OG Geoffrey Schwarz creates a further need to improve at the guard position.
It is important to note that the Super Bowl champion Ravens had two former Vikings (Birk,McKinnie) on their front line. While Matt Kalil is proving an upgrade, and John Sullivan more than solid at center, there is a need to improve the depth and talent of guard. The right guard position presently belongs to Brandon Fusco. Charlie Johnson was recently signed to man the other guard. He is entering his 8th season, and was not resembling former All-Pro (happy retirement!) Steve Hutchinson in 2012.
Guard is a need in 2013.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings have serious talent. DT Kevin Williams has given us ten good years at defensive tackle. DE Jared Allen enters his 10th year as a pro, and all have been exceptional since coming from the Chiefs. Add improving DE Brian Robison and you have one of the better front fours in football. But also maybe one of the oldest. All three will be thirty years old (or older) at the start of the season. Only NT LeTroy Guion at 26 is considered young in this group.
Luckily, Minnesota possesses others at defensive line who are ready to contribute. Everson Griffen showed signs of life in 2012, and in only his 4th season, is probably ready to replace someone at end. DT Christian Ballard is entering his 3rd season, and appears capable. So to is NT Fred Evans, though he is entering his 8th season. D'Aundre Reed should be back at defensive end, but has yet to get a chance to prove himself.
Defensive line is needing youth.
And so over the next forty days I will be offering reviews of prospects for this year's NFL Draft. Minnesota has eleven selections in the draft. They have five in the top one hundred. Now is the time for the return to atop the North division. The Packers, still the team to beat, are an Aaron Rodgers injury away from mediocrity. Their defense is suspect. And now they are without Jennings on offense. The Bears and Lions are good, but so are we. We might even be better?
Thirty-Nine days and counting...
The news came just before the start of the game. Christian Ponder was not going to be available, and the quarterback duties would fall to Joe Webb, the back-up who had not thrown a single pass all year. But the faithful did not waiver. Fans reasoned the run possibilities would force the Packers to not emphasize stopping Adrian Peterson. Even critics agreed. Tony Dungy, who had picked Green Bay to win, changed his mind upon hearing the quarterback shuffle. He thought the read-react approach to quarterback might be just the ticket.
I guess not.
As a yearlong defender of Christian Ponder, I have this desire to say "I told you so" to the thousands of fans who called for Ponder's head throughout the year. See. This is what you have been asking for all year?.. Happy?
But I am now more inclined to agree with them. Whether or not Ponder is the future, it is painfully obvious we need to improve at the QB position. I am certain if Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels had been the starter yesterday, we would have been in position to win, or at least compete.
True, Green Bay added Charles Woodson. Their defensive backs were healthier. But Woodson is worth 27 points?
We missed Ponder.
But before we lament away our January, we must reflect on what has happened. A 3-13 team has improved seven games in a season. Only the Indianapolis Colts can say better, and they had a fallen coach as a team motivator.
Adrian Peterson compiled one of the greatest single-season efforts in NFL history and is the favorite to win the MVP. We can rest assured that he has fully recovered from the ACL/MCL injury to his knee.
Blair Walsh has arrived, and Minnesota has the best place kicker in its' history.
The defensive secondary is improved. Some. Chris Cook and Josh Robinson are promising. Harrison Smith is really good.
We beat Green Bay, Houston, and San Francisco this year. We played Washington, Seattle and Indianapolis tough. All these teams are alive in the playoffs as of today.
We are not so far away.
After the pain wears away we will assess the season. Already I can see some key positions that need improving. Offensive guard, defensive secondary, linebacker, and wide receiver to start.
And, of course, quarterback.
But for right now I am down. Still on the wagon; always will be, Many will get off, but they probably jumped on last week.
Sunday morning has proven to be a tough one. The knowledge that Green Bay is the cause of our end is hard to accept. We realize the team was not ready in 2012 to go the distance, but we would have liked at least one more round.
Adrian Peterson already holds many Vikings' records. He is first in rushing attempts (1754), yards rushing (8,849), rushing TDs (76), 1,000 yard seasons (5), yards per game rushing (99.4), to mention just a few. The awesomeness of these records is: one, that he has accomplished it all in six years; and two, the decisiveness with which he is shattering previous records. Presently, Bill Brown and Chuck Foreman are second in TDs, only 24 behind. Robert Smith is second in rushing yards, though he trails by 2,031 yards despite playing two more seasons. The next closest yards per game rusher? Smith again, at 69.6 yards, about 30 yards short of AP.
After we witnessed Peterson's Herculean efforts last Sunday in the dramatic 37-34 win over the Packers, most Minnesotans are certain that number twenty-eight is this year's NFL MVP. Sure, Peyton Manning has done amazing things in Denver this year. He has kept pace or surpassed Tom Brady and/or Aaron Rodgers. He is alongside Drew Brees. And his team is winning. The Broncos have secured the one-seed in the AFC.
But how long ago was it Tim Tebow winning there? And if Tebow was able to lead Denver to victories last year, how less valuable does that make Manning? Add to that fact that the voters have already given Manning three MVPs, and most could see why they might decide to give the award to AP in 2012.
Adrian fell nine yards short of the all-time yards rushing title last Sunday. As he stated later in the week, it was bittersweet. The perfect story book ending would have had him score in the waning seconds on that final run, not be stopped near the ten yard line. Blair Walsh's field goal that just snuck inside the left goalpost gave Minnesota an improbable ticket to the playoffs while ending one of the greatest seasons ever assembled by any football player.
Just how great?
Peterson finished with 2,097 yards. But his yards per carry was 6.0 in 2012. His yards per game 131.1. Dickerson averaged 5.6 yards per carry in his record setting year in 1984. And he finished 0.5 yards per game higher. Only Jim Brown in 1963 (6.3, 133.1) and O.J. Simpson (6.0, 143.1) in 1973 were better. Ever.
Chris Johnson in 2009 had 2,006 yards, averaging 5.7 a carry, and 125.4 yards per game. He was close.
Another way to measure RB greatness is to total how many times they led the league in rushing. Jim Brown won eight rushing titles in nine seasons, or 89%. Barry Sanders, with four titles in ten years, is at 40%. Earl Campbell won three titles in eight years, or 37.5%. Next is Eric Dickerson at 36.4%. Adrian Peterson is presently at 33.3%, having won his 2nd in his six seasons. Emmitt Smith won four titles, but played 15 seasons, and is at 26.7% despite being the all-time leading rusher.
This would mean that Walter Payton was not very good, as he won only one title in 13 years. Payton was runner-up to Campbell three times. Or Jim Taylor of the Packers would be lesser ranked because he happened to play in the same era as Jim Brown.
No, maybe the truest measure of a running backs' greatness is yards per carry?
Which would mean one of the greatest seasons ever belonged to Beattie Feathers of the Chicago Bears. You remember him, right? He was the first 1,000 yard rusher back in 1934. In that magical season he ran for 1,004 yards with an average yards per carry of 8.4. However, his yards per game a mere 91.3.
And that LB-RB Marion Motley of the Cleveland Browns (1946-53) may have been better than his predecessor, Brown. Motley averaged 5.7 yards a carry for his career, easily ranking him first all-time among qualified backs. However, Motley averaged only 47.6 yards per game with the Browns.
So, if we decide to add yards per carry to yards per game, and sprinkle in lifetime achievements like rushing titles and career yards, we may find how to truly measure a running back's greatness. And that is just what I did.
Here are my top ten RBs of All-Time...
10. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans (2008-present). I know what you are thinking. He doesn't belong in the top 50 until he earns it. But hear the numbers out. Johnson has 6,888 yards in five years. He has recorded five straight 1,000 yard seasons. In 2009, he ran for 2,006 yards. He has a lifetime 4.7 a carry, which ranks him fifth on this list. His 87.2 yards per game ranks sixth. He is already 57th all-time is rushing yards. He belongs.
9. Bo Jackson, Oakland Raiders (1987-90). Despite playing only four seasons, and starting only 23 games, Bo makes the list. Bo averaged 5.4 yards every time he ran the ball, better than any other on this list. He had season long runs over 90 twice, and 88 in another year. Bo ran a 4.1 at the NFL combine. He was wicked fast, and maybe the most dangerous player of all-time. His career was cut short by injury. He would go on to be a major league baseball player. And a good one.
8. Earl Campbell, 2 teams (1978-85). Playing most of his career with the Houston Oilers, Campbell won the rushing title in each of his first three seasons. In the six full seasons Campbell was an Oiler, the team was 43-46-0 overall. He was so impressive to watch, a giant guy running over, through, and by anyone. He finished with 4.3 yards per carry, and 81.8 yards per game. Those numbers are skewed as he was little used in three of his final four seasons. His brutal approach to carrying a football was the cause for an early demise. Still, he ranks 31st overall in career rushing yards.
7. O.J. Simpson, 2 teams (1969-79). Simpson was with the Buffalo Bills for most of his career. The Bills were 43-81-2 during that time. During an era where most teams learned to use the pass as a weapon, Buffalo relied on running the ball. Simpson had four rushing titles in a five-year span (1972-76). He was the first to cross the 2,000 barrier in 1973 with 2,003 yards. The next closest rusher that year was John Brockington, only 859 yards away. O.J. averaged 4.7 yards per carry, and 83.2 yards per game over his career. Simpson ranks 18th overall in yards rushed.
6. Emmitt Smith, 2 teams (1990-2004). Smith is the all-time rushing leader at 18,355 yards. So why is he so low on this list? Smith averaged 4.2 yards per carry, and 81.2 yards per game. His was longevity as much as greatness. He did win four rushing titles in a five year span (1991-95). He had 11 straight 1,000 yard seasons. The Cowboys were 116-92-0 during his time there. He was great, but there were better...
5. Walter Payton, Chicago Bears (1975-1987). Payton played all 13 seasons with the Bears. Like Smith, he led them to the Super Bowl win. Payton averaged 4.4 yards per carry, and 88.0 yards per game. He finished with 16,726 yards, at that time the most ever. He would have won more than one title, but he happened to play during an era that included O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell, and Eric Dickerson. His nickname was "Sweetness" and those that watched him would agree... he was. He had ten 1,000 yard seasons, only interrupted by the strike-shortened season of 1982 (9 games). In Payton's only season leading the league (1977), he won his rushing title by 579 yards.
4. Eric Dickerson, 4 teams (1983-1993). Dickerson was unique in that he is not associated with one team. He spent parts of five seasons with both the Rams and the Colts. He finished with 13,259 yards rushing, four titles including the all-time rushing mark of 2,105 in 1984. He had seven straight 1,000 yard seasons to start his career. He had over 1,800 in three of his first four seasons. Dickerson finished his career averaging 4.4 yards a carry, and 90.8 yards per game. He was a work horse that averaged over 100 yards per game in five of his first six seasons. But those seasons took a toll. In his final four years, had 2,033 rushing yards total in 45 games for the Colts, Raiders, and Falcons.
3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (2007-present). You have seen him for six years. His lifetime achievements are still waiting to unfold. At present, Peterson is 33rd all-time in rushing. His 5.0 yards per carry bettered by only Brown on this list. His 99.4 yards per game 3rd best. AP won the 2012 rushing title by 484 yards over Alfred Morris. This coming off of knee surgery that had many fearing for his career. He has two rushing titles in six years. He was runner-up to LaDainian Tomlinson in his rookie year. Minnesota is 49-47-0 in those six years. Maybe some homer-bias, but his numbers hold out.
2. Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions (1989-98). Sanders was the most elusive player I have ever seen. He won four titles in his ten years (1990,94,95,97), three after his fifth season. He lost a title in 1991 by five yards. He got better with age. His final rushing title included an MVP award. He was honored as much for his demeanor as his feats. Sanders finished with a 5.0 average yards per carry, and 99.8 yards per game average, both 2nd on this list. He left the game when he was within reach of Payton's all-time record, still fully capable. Detroit's losing ways had returned and he did not want to be a part of another rebuild. Sanders takes a backseat to no one, except...
1. Jim Brown, Cleveland Browns (1957-65). Many fans never saw him play, including me. So how does he keep ending up atop a list such as this one? Try eight rushing titles in nine years. Or 5.2 yards per carry, or 104.3 yards per game. He was a three-time MVP. He won the 1958 title by 791 yards over Alan Ameche, setting a new NFL record by 95 yards over Spec Sanders of the defunct AAFC, with 1,527 yards. He broke his own record in 1963, by 336 yards, with an 1,863 yard effort that stood until Simpson broke in ten years later. That year he bear runner-up Jim Taylor by 845 yards, or nearly double. Further, in 1963 he averaged 6.4 yards per carry. His final season, his ninth, he won the title by 677 yards over rookie Gale Sayers. And that just scratches the surface of his greatness.
There were serious absences from this list that deserve mention. All-time rushing leaders like: Curtis Martin, Tomlinson, Jerome Bettis, Tony Dorsett, Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, Marcus Allen, and Franco Harris to name a few. Other older generation rushing title holders like Steve Van Buren, a four-time title winner from the Philadelphia Eagles post-WW II. Or Joe Perry of the 49ers, the first to rush for 1,000 yard seasons back-to-back in 1953-54.
We will learn who is MVP in a short while. He will watch All Day's career unfold. But these are personal achievements, and should not outweigh the team matter at hand. This Saturday AP will once again have to prove to skeptics why a guy like me would value him so greatly.
AP Knows what it is all about...
or was that Bo.
I know many Vikings' fans were trying to reason it is OK to run just one more time. After Adrian Peterson's incredible performance which included two touchdowns, 199 yards rushing, and countless cut-backs and jukes that had the crowd in a raucous mood.
"Give him the ball. He will get the record. You can still call timeout. We want the ball on the right hash mark."
But in the end we had to concede that Adrian's heroic effort in 2012 would fall nine yards short of setting the NFL record still held by Erick Dickerson. Earlier in the day Dickerson had made it clear on national television that he wanted to keep the record. He was hoping Peterson would get 180 or so and win the game, but fall short of his hallowed title. He laughed, but he was serious. The rushing record is one of the most prized individual records in football.
And as Minnesotans celebrated Blair Walsh's winning field goal that just snuck inside the left goalpost, there was a sadness that the running back we love was denied the individual glory we all wished for him. Not so much that we did not jump up and down and think of all of our Packers and Bears friends we could Facebook.
We beat the blessed Packers.
The loss cost Green Bay a bye, and forces them to play us again next week.
How good does that feel?
The win knocked out the Chicago Bears from the playoffs. The 2012 Vikings eliminated someone. And it was someone we don't like very much.
And we have so many players to thank. Besides AP, there was Christian Ponder. While not perfect, and scary a few times, Ponder was brilliant and steady most of the game. His down field throws, decision-making, and precision under pressure were foreign to most fans. But I am certain that the slew of fans who insisted we need a new quarterback for 2013 are having doubt. Maybe Ponder might be just what we need?
There was pressure at times on Aaron Rodgers. He was hit hard by Everson Griffen often and Brian Robison made a huge play stripping him of the ball on a sack. Jared Allen was a force early in the game. Minnesota did not want to blitz and left it up to their front four most of the game. While Rodgers knifed through the defense often, he also gave up five sacks (three to Griffen). In the end Rodgers had 365 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. But the lack of a running game cost Rodgers pressure.
Jarius Wright became the favorite of many young fans today with his circus catch of a deflected pass that could have been a costly Ponder error. Instead, Wright's questionable grab that was undisputed, was a key first down when Rodgers was heating up. And Wright's big catch of a Ponder bomb (what is that asks most fans) was an even bigger play. Michael Jenkins, almost a goat earlier, made a couple of big catches. Even Jerome Simpson looked the part. All-Pro fullback Terry Felton even looked good on the other side of a perfect Ponder spiral.
I could always point out mistakes. Every game has them. The late timeout in the first half that seemed to give Rodgers enough time to get a field goal. Phil Loadholt's foolish decisions and penalties. Mistral Raymond overran a tackle that seemed to give momentum to Green Bay. Marcus Sherels leaves Jordy Nelson on a deep route. Even Adrian almost fumbled.
Or not, as replay overcame.
I choose not to dwell on these sobering events. I want to bask in the glory of another playoff visit to Lambeau Field. I want to think about winning three games in 2011, and then ten in 2012. I want to tell all the Ponder haters that I was right about him, he ain't so bad. He is just young. I want to call my Vikings' friends. It is a happy time.
And then I think about the record. Peterson came back in less than a year from a career-threatening knee injury. He dominated against defenses sole bent on stopping him. He ran so hard that most every time he touched the ball everyone in the room got excited. He even stayed in-bounds late in the game (see that Robert Smith?).
I want everyone to buy an Adrian Peterson jersey tomorrow. Celebrate his greatness. Nine lousy yards.
Skol, MVP, Skol.
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