With the start of the regular season ticking down, there are still numerous unanswered questions surrounding the Minnesota Vikings offense. From the looks of things, the team is content rolling with Shaun Hill at quarterback this week with the likely intention of turning the keys over to Sam Bradford next week for the home opener.
The one thing that hasn’t been in question is the offensive life jacket the Vikings have had for a decade now – the Hall of Fame running of Adrian Peterson.
Since his arrival in Minnesota in 2007, the Vikings offense has leaned on Peterson to be the security blanket the revolving door of quarterbacks has had during his tenure. Few teams have had that luxury in the NFL during that span – a running back whom the offense can run through as a steadying influence.
The Vikings have had grizzled veterans during Peterson’s career – Brett Favre being the best and Donovan McNabb being the worst. They’ve also had young quarterbacks of the future handing the present off to A.P. — Tarvaris Jackson, Christian Ponder and Teddy Bridgewater to name three. In each instance, the best thing any Vikings quarterback has had has been the ability to turn around and hand the ball off to number 28.
The 2016 season is going to be no exception. Peterson remains the focal point of the Vikings offense, which is the only good thing surrounding the injury to Bridgewater that has thrown the 2016 season into doubt.
When in doubt, you can always strap up Peterson for 20-25 carries a game in hopes that the defense can do its job and keep the team in games and the offense can score enough points to come away with a win.
The Vikings have been a rarity in that regard. Even those players viewed as the best in their field of expertise have to tip their hats to Peterson. In the last four years, Peterson has led the NFL in rushing twice. The other two have been shipped elsewhere. DeMarco Murray won the rushing title in 2014 but was allowed to leave Dallas – landing in Philadelphia before being traded to the Vikings’ season-opening opponent in the Titans. In 2013, LeSean McCoy won the rushing title with the Eagles and was promptly traded off to Buffalo. At a time when running backs are becoming much more marginalized as offensive talents, Peterson has not only been the standard-bearer by which all others are measured, he has done so as the franchise cornerstone of the Vikings without any question as to who the main man of the offense is.
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About the only other player in Minnesota football history that even comes close to that level of positional dominance is Randy Moss. When Moss arrived in 1998, he almost immediately changed the way the Vikings offense was run and altered the way division opponents sought out to contain him. Green Bay drafted defensive backs every year. Detroit went to free agency to address the problem. Chicago opted to double-team Moss on every play to limit his production. In the end, none of those approaches worked.
The same has been true with Peterson. Opponents will stack the box in hopes of minimizing the damage he can do to a defense, with little consistent luck in that regard. Peterson gets his. The bar has been raised high – 1,200 yards and double-digit touchdowns have become the expectation and Peterson has delivered on those goals every year of his career that he has played all 16 games.
Just as the Moss era came to an end, there is a shelf life on when Peterson will no longer be the not-so-secret weapon that the Minnesota offense can lean on in hard times. But, for 2016 at least, fans can take comfort in knowing that All Day is on the job and picking up the slack.
From the looks of things, Hill will get the start on Sunday in the opener against Tennessee. The expectation is that Bradford will be tagged in next week when the Packers come to town for a critical early-season showdown.
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But the one constant that remains is that, regardless of who will be under center, the focus of the defensive game plan won’t be on either one of them. It will be centered on stopping Peterson.
Vikings fans have been spoiled for the last decade by witnessing the greatest running back of his generation do what he does at such a high level. This may well be one of the defining seasons of his career, because the offense is going to lean on Peterson as much as it ever has to bring success to the franchise.
Enjoy him while you still have time, Vikings fans. Players of his caliber are a once-in-a-decade type and, while the current buzz is surrounding which quarterback will be manning the ship, the one constant that will be there throughout is that Peterson will be the faceplate of the offense. Coaches, players and fans can all take comfort in that knowledge.