If Mike Zimmer wants more motivation for his Minnesota Vikings, consider the case of St. Louis Rams rookie Todd Gurley.
The Vikings opened the season allowing 230 rushing yards to the San Francisco 49ers, didn’t have to face Jamaal Charles when they played the Kansas City Chiefs, and saw Matt Forte leave with injury in the third quarter of Sunday’s game. Gurley will simply be the ultimate test of what the Vikings believe is an improved run defense.
“He’s an excellent running back. He’s shown tremendous explosiveness, great vision and he’s a hard guy to tackle,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “We’ve got to keep on playing the run like we’re doing, play your keys, shut down the run and be able to rush the passer.”
The Vikings have shut down the run well since that opening-night gaffe. Since then, the Vikings have only allowed opponents more than 100 yards rushing once – in their only other loss when the Denver Broncos ran for 144 yards in a 23-20 win over Minnesota. The other rushing totals against the Vikings in their five wins: 38 and 77 yards for the Detroit Lions in their two meetings, 90 yards for San Diego, 57 yards for Kansas City and 97 yards for the Bears.
But, simply, Gurley is better is the best pure runner the Vikings will face in the first half of their schedule.
“Todd Gurley, he’s special,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “He’s Adrian Peterson all over again. I know people used to compare him Adrian Peterson when he was in college and me being a South Carolina guy, of course I’ve seen him run up and down the field against South Carolina a couple times. We know we’ve got a tough task at hand, but I know our defensive line and linebackers, they’re ready for it.”
They’d better be.
Other backs have entered the league with the comparison of being “the next Adrian Peterson.” Gurley is the only one that has come even close.
“I think he runs with violence, explosive, a lot of those things,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
Gurley’s entrance into the league was delayed a bit. He didn’t play in the first two games this season as he continued to recover from anterior cruciate ligament surgery, just like Peterson had at the end of the 2011 season. In the third game, he rushed just six times for nine yards, but by Week 4 he was in the starting lineup and excelling.
Since making his first start, Gurley hasn’t rushed for fewer than 125 yards, going for a combined 566 yards in those four starts, the most through four starts by an NFL player since 1966, the start of the Super Bowl era.
His 575 yards in his first five games played is more than anyone except Eric Dickerson (645) and – as you might have guessed – Peterson (607).
With two fewer games played than any other running back in the top five so far this year, he is fifth in rushing yards and only 134 yards behind the rushing leader Devonta Freeman, who has three more games played than Gurley. Gurley’s 115-yard average per game is at least 20 yards better than any of the other top backs, and his 6.2-yard average per carry leads the league.
And, like Peterson, his yards per carry only increases in the second halves of games, from 4.9 in the first half to 7.1 in the second half. The more carries he gets, the better. After 20 carries in the game, he starts averaging 8.4 yards per run, more than 3 yards better than any other qualifier.
In other words, the Vikings defense had better be ready and rested.
“This guy is big, man. A lot of guys don’t realize how big he is,” Munnerlyn said. “He’s like 6-1 or so and he’s got the speed. He can hit you with the home run speed. He’s a young Adrian Peterson, but I like our Adrian Peterson better.”