So you’re fired up to watch the Vikings’ opener. You’re a new-age NFL fan. You’ve got your artisan chips, organic guacamole made from avocados imported on an entirely organic boat, meat so tender the farmer must have carried that cow everywhere, and a “We’re No. 1” foam finger that the vendor promises never came close to Miley Cyrus.
You can’t wait for Adrian Peterson to defy physiology, psychology, logic and history by rushing for 2,500 yards this season.
Peterson raises expectations the way a drunk bids at an auction. Do we have 2,000? “I can do that,’’ Peterson says. Do we have 2,500? “Why not?’’ Peterson says.
You should want Peterson to aim high. You should also want him to fall short.
Running the ball well benefits NFL teams. Running the ball constantly rarely does.
Since Terrell Davis rushed for 2,008 yards in 1998 and the Broncos won the Super Bowl with Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway running the offense, no player who led the NFL in rushing has won a Super Bowl. Only one has played in a Super Bowl — Seattle’s Shaun Alexander in 2005.
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Peterson seemed indestructible last year, but he’s not. At 28, he has already suffered two serious knee injuries, and he plays in an era when concussions diagnoses are commonplace. Every time he carries the ball, he’s at risk. To rush for 2,500 yards, he’d take an inhuman battering against teams lined up to stop him. He survived last year, but there’s a reason NFL running backs last about as long as boy bands.
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His output last year shouldn’t be considered a steppingstone, but an aberration. His entire offensive line stayed healthy all year. He stayed healthy all year. Stump your friends with this question: Before he rushed for 2,097 yards, how many times had Peterson rushed for more than 1,400 yards?
The answer: Once. In 2008, starring in another offense that relied heavily on the run and downplayed quarterback play, Peterson rushed for 1,760 yards. His third-highest total: 1,383 in 2009, when he played in a fully functional offense with a gifted quarterback and receivers. That should be considered a median, even a desirable, season.
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Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards in part because of individual brilliance, but also because of the Vikings’ failures. If he reaches that total again, that would mean that the Vikings again failed to throw the ball effectively and were still unstable at the most important position in sport, quarterback.
If the Vikings throw the ball well, there will be fewer yards available to Peterson no matter how well he runs. The Vikings didn’t sign Greg Jennings and draft Cordarrelle Patterson to block downfield. They brought them in to diversify and improve the offense.
Rushing for 2,000 yards also requires poor field position and lots of possession time. The Vikings would be a better team if their defense and special teams would score a few touchdowns and set up a few 20-yard touchdown drives.
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NFL backs who have reached 2,000 yards typically regress dramatically the next season, demonstrating the physical toll absorbed by star runners. The Vikings would be better off having Peterson rush for 1,500 yards for each of the next five seasons than having him reach 2,000 again and shortening his career.
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Football, unlike baseball, really isn’t about numbers. That’s why the public doesn’t seem to care whether NFL players take steroids, HGH, plutonium or Flubber. Football is about Winning and The Big Game and Winning The Big Game.
If Peterson broke the rushing record this season, he would be celebrated, and eventually someone would break his record, and he’d be remembered nationally the way we remember Earl Campbell and Barry Sanders, as great players who rushed for … well, how many yards was it again?
If you care about winning, now and in the future, you should hope to see Peterson in the end zone a lot — celebrating with receivers who just caught another touchdown. That would be best for the Vikings’ present and Peterson’s future.