If there is one person who has to be thrilled with the season that Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is having, reaching his seventh Pro Bowl and leading the league in rushing after sitting out 15 games last season, it’s offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
Consider that last year, the Vikings rushing offense ranked 14th in the NFL with 112.8 yards per game. With Peterson back this season, they entered Week 16 at fifth in the NFL at 131.6 yards per game.
Yes, Peterson remains a game-changing force, and Turner, who has coached with the best in the business, said the 2012 NFL MVP is up there with anyone he has coached in terms of talent.
“Adrian is going as good as you can go right now,” Turner said. “He’s such an explosive player, still has the great vision, makes great cuts, and he’s a load to bring down. Those DBs have a tough time once he gets in the secondary.”
Easily the greatest back Turner ever coached is Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and a man Peterson looked up to when he was growing up in Texas.
Turner said that while both are some of the best ever at the position, their games aren’t really comparable.
“They’re different styles,” he said. “They’re both pretty good. You’re talking about Emmitt, who was the leading rusher in the history of the National Football League. He did a lot of great things. Adrian is his own guy, his own style. But he’s a great back.”
Turner had the chance to watch the great Eric Dickerson for three seasons when Turner served as the receivers coach for the Los Angeles Rams from 1985 to 1990.
“I always talk about Adrian and Eric Dickerson as being two of the most explosive guys I have been around,” he said. “I’ve had some good backs. I’ve been on teams with good backs. Ricky Williams is one of my favorites because he was such a physical player, Stephen Davis had a couple of great years for me, Terry Allen — we’ve had a couple of great guys.”
Game planning for defenses
Peterson has had back-to-back weeks with just average rushing totals with 69 yards on 23 carries in the loss at Arizona followed by 63 yards on 18 carries in the victory over Chicago, both games in which the Vikings offense got a lot from the right arm of Teddy Bridgewater.
Turner knows opposing defenses are going to work to game-plan against Peterson, but hopefully Bridgewater’s recent surge will continue to open up the running game.
“One of the things that has kind of got lost in this is we’ve had pretty good balance,” Turner said. “You know, we have a good screen game, been getting the ball spread around to a lot of different people.
“Games come up different. I think what you have to do when you’re in the middle of the game is do what you have to do to win it.”
Continuing to improve
Bridgewater had the best game of his career last week vs. the Bears, completing 17 of 20 passes for 231 yards and four touchdowns. His 154.4 passer rating was the second highest in Vikings history.
Turner said Bridgewater has continued to improve throughout the season.
“I think he is right where we want him to be,” Turner said. “He keeps growing. I think people who understand football and understand our team evaluate it and say he’s playing at a high level. When we’ve asked him to throw the ball and make plays, he has been able to do that for us.”
Consider this: When Eli Manning, the opposing quarterback Sunday, was 23 years old, he had played in nine games for the Giants, posted a 48.2 percent completion percentage with 115.9 yards per game and six touchdowns compared with nine interceptions while going 1-6 as a starter.
Bridgewater has posted a 66.3 completion percentage with 211.7 yards per game and 13 touchdowns compared with eight interceptions while going 9-5 as a starter.
For his age Bridgewater has been very impressive.
If the Gophers can beat Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl on Monday in Detroit, it will set up a great 2016.
The Gophers have a much easier schedule next year, playing their first three games at home against Oregon State (2-10 in 2015), Indiana State (5-6) and Colorado State (7-5) before playing at Penn State (7-5) in the Big Ten opener. Their first real test comes at home against Iowa in their second conference game. But the Gophers don’t play Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State.
And it’s assumed they will have a far healthier team than in their injury-plagued 2015.
Finally, the Gophers will have an excellent recruiting class, to build off their strong 2015 class that saw eight freshmen play this season.
So things will look bright as the calendar turns to 2016.
• Edina native Kieffer Bellows, the son of former North Stars forward Brian Bellows, is having a banner year with the U.S. National Development Team, as he has 17 points in 10 games. The younger Bellows, projected as a top pick in next year’s NHL draft, wasn’t recruited by the Gophers and is headed to Boston University.
• Marian Gaborik is in his third season with the Kings, his third team since leaving the Wild, but he had only 12 points in 33 games through the NHL’s Christmas break.
• Former Eden Prairie football player Nick Davidson, the son of Vikings offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, is a member of the Stanford Rose Bowl team that will face Iowa on Friday. Davidson has played in all 12 games this year. He spent some time with the Cardinal basketball team last season, too.
• Frank Ragnow, the former Chanhassen standout, started all 12 games at center for Arkansas as a sophomore. He will be in the lineup for Saturday’s Liberty Bowl vs. Kansas State.
• Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman speaking about former Twins outfielder Aaron Hicks, acquired for catcher John Ryan Murphy: “We think Aaron Hicks is an everyday player. We believe he’s figured a lot of things out in the last year.”
• Playing well in Winter League baseball for the Twins are Kennys Vargas, who was hitting .312 with six home runs and 17 RBI in 30 games in Puerto Rico, and Danny Santana, who was hitting .305 with seven extra-base hits in 25 games in the Dominican Republic.
• A Christmas card from former Gophers men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith reported Texas Tech is 9-1 and is looking for a successful season.
• Lakeville South product J.P. Macura is averaging 20.0 minutes, 8.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game for No. 6 Xavier (12-0).