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Return of Superhuman Adrian Peterson Might Not Be Best For Vikings

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Minnesota’s resident superhuman, running back Adrian Peterson, is set to return to action on Sunday afternoon, seemingly just in time to buoy the playoff hopes of his Vikings, who currently sit just outside the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC.

But there’s a decent chance Peterson’s return could have the opposite of the intended effect.

Going into the 2016 season, the All-Pro running back was intended to be the focal point of the Minnesota offense, especially after quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went down with an injury late in the preseason. Instead, Peterson has missed 11 games due to a torn meniscus in his right knee, suffered in a Week 2 win over the Green Bay Packers. But even before he went down with the injury, Peterson had not been the same version of himself that we’d become accustomed to.

In two games, Peterson carried the ball 31 times and totaled a whopping 50 yards, a depressing 1.6 yards per carry average. He didn’t have the same bounce in his step or burst, and he was helpless behind a makeshift Vikings offensive line, which has been dealt plenty of injuries of its own, left to be swallowed up in the backfield time and time again.

Not much has changed in that regard over the last 12 weeks. Minnesota is still depleted along the offensive line and their running game has been virtually non-existent as a result. As a team, the Vikings have gone over 100 yards rushing just once all season, and both Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, the two players that have split carries to comprise Minnesota’s backfield tandem, are averaging around three yards per carry. In theory, that would make the return of Peterson a more than welcome occurrence. But because the Vikings have had so little luck running the ball regardless of who is carrying it, the return of AD has the potential to backfire badly.

The good thing about having to hand the ball off to either Asiata or McKinnon is that, when the running game isn’t working, it’s easy to abandon it for something different. That won’t be the case with Peterson in the backfield, as Minnesota will feel pressure to get the ball into the hands of their best offensive player early and often. The evidence is right there in the first two weeks of the season, when the team ran the ball with Peterson, finding little success, but still force-fed it to him over and over. Trying to do so again over the final three weeks of the season could prove detrimental to an already stalling Vikings offense.

AD is also going to have some serious rust to shake off as he returns to the field this week. He’s barely practiced at all leading up to this point and while many have tried to compare his impending return to those which he made during the 2012 season (after his ACL tear) and 2015 season (after his 15-game suspension), when each time he led the league in the rushing upon his return, the difference is that in both of those cases he had the entirety of training camp to work himself back into playing shape. In this instance, he’s had no such luxury, going straight from surgery on Sept. 22 to rehab, to light practice, and then activation with barely any time to breathe in between.

There’s also the little matter of a big change in the Vikings offensive game plan since Peterson last saw the field. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner left the team last month and was replaced by Pat Shurmur, who has installed some new plans to take advantage of Minnesota’s skill players and try to cover up some of their deficiencies. Peterson and Shurmur seem to have varying degrees of confidence that the All-Pro running back, and one of the league’s all-time best at the position, can handle the transition.

“I’ve been having my head in the playbook this week, just anticipating going out there,” Peterson said in an appearance on Dash Radio with DJ Skee announcing his return to action. “I’ve got some things I need to clean up a little bit, but I’ll be out there.”

“There certainly are some new things we’re doing that he’s not as familiar with,” Shurmur told ESPN this week. “He’s been in meetings. He’s been around. He’s somewhat familiar with what we’re doing. But knowing it and actually executing it are two different things.”

Peterson is also now firmly on the wrong side of age 30, having turned 31 in March and prior to the injury, he was finally showing those signs of slowing down we’d long been waiting for. He’s also now coming off a second major knee injury and surgery, and while a meniscus tear isn’t quite as bad as an ACL tear, it’s no cakewalk to come back from either. Granted, it’s still remarkable that his body has been able to heal quickly enough to allow him to make this comeback, and we can continue to marvel at his superhuman healing ability, but that doesn’t mean he should push it.

However, he wouldn’t be Adrian Peterson if he didn’t.

And of course, if somehow the old Adrian Peterson resurfaces over the next three weeks, the Vikings all of a sudden become a force to be reckoned with, so why not go for it? Minnesota still has a great shot at a playoff spot, currently sitting in the eighth spot in the NFC but ready to pounce if the current No. 6 seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers — who play the No. 1 seed Cowboys this week — and No. 7 spot holding Washington Redskins — who host the Carolina Panthers on Monday night — both fall this week.

Minnesota also has the opportunity to build some momentum this week as they continue their run through the terrible AFC South. The Vikings are coming off a win over Jacksonville and getting ready to host a Colts team that has a woefully bad defense, ranking 29th in the league in yards allowed per game, and 24th against the run.

The Vikings follow that game with a visit to Lambeau Field next week that could have huge playoff implications, but they’re fortunate to close the season against the cellar-dwelling Chicago Bears while the Packers play the Lions, the Bucs play the Panthers and the Redskins face the Giants. It’s all right there in front of Minnesota if they can find a way to seize it.

But they can’t get caught up trying to force something to work that doesn’t. So if Peterson gets rolling, great ride him right to the postseason. But if we see the same AD we saw in the Weeks 1 and 2, the step slower version whose offensive line can’t open the holes he needs, they have to be willing to pull the plug and go with what’s gotten them to this point. Otherwise, what has been a rollercoaster season in Minnesota is going to end up on the wrong side of the tracks.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys