Commentary

2,500 for Peterson? Vikes hope not

If he hits his rushing goal, team's plans to diversify offense will have failed

Originally Published: May 10, 2013
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

Adrian Peterson isn't rushing for 2,500 yards this season. He's lost his mind. It isn't a realistic goal, even for Peterson, who must be a droid given how he defied modern medicine a year ago.

It's not that I don't believe in Peterson. I do. He's amazing. What he did this past season -- rushing for 2,097 yards so soon after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament -- was yet another example of how unique a player he is. If anyone has the talent and drive to obliterate the NFL single-season rushing record Eric Dickerson has held since 1984, it is Peterson.

But the Minnesota Vikings certainly don't want Peterson to rush for 2,500 yards, much less 2,000 yards. They don't want him to become the first player in NFL history to post two 2,000-yard seasons in a career, and they don't want him to become the seventh player to carry the ball 400 times in a season.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesAdrian Peterson wants to rush for 2,500 yards next season. But does it make sense for the Vikings to give him that many carries?

After last season, the Vikings want more balance on offense. They don't want to be a one-man show, even if that one man is Peterson. Look at two of Minnesota's biggest moves of the offseason. First the Vikings signed former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings to a lucrative deal in the neighborhood of what Mike Wallace, the most coveted free agent of the season, got from Miami. Then they used one of their three first-round draft picks to select wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson out of the University of Tennessee.

The Vikings tried to improve their offense and give Christian Ponder a few more playmakers. Sure, they traded Percy Harvin to Seattle, but they got two players who should make Ponder better.

So it's not even that Peterson can't rush for 2,500 yards. It's that he probably won't get the opportunity. The Vikings will not give it to him.

To rush for 2,500 yards, Peterson probably would have to average between 25 and 30 rushes per game. That's not going to happen.

This is an enormous year for Ponder, the crucial Year 3. Can he build on the positives from last season, such as when he threw for 352 yards in Week 6 against Washington or when he threw three touchdowns and no interceptions in a Week 17 win over Green Bay? Or is he really the guy who had 58 passing yards against Arizona in Week 7 and had 91 passing yards against Chicago in Week 14?

If Peterson averages 156.25 yards per game throughout the season -- as he must if he wants to finish with 2,500 rushing yards -- that will mean Ponder is foundering. If Peterson runs for 200 yards in games -- as he did twice last season -- that will mean Ponder isn't producing. And if Peterson carries the load, that will mean the Vikings' carefully executed offseason moves will have been mistakes.

Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier don't want that.

They also don't want this: They don't want to have to return to the drawing board at the most important position in football, quarterback. And if Peterson has to be "the man" in 2013 even more than he had to be the man in 2012, the Vikings will have to find a replacement for Ponder. Matt Cassel isn't the long-term answer.

Peterson can talk all day about his goals -- and he's been talking about this one since late last year -- and good for him. He can use people's doubts as fuel for the season. Professional athletes are notorious for turning perceived slights, real or otherwise, into motivation to achieve greatness. Peterson was doubted coming out of college because of his injury history and running style. He used that. He undoubtedly will use this.

[+] EnlargeChristian Ponder
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesThe Vikings brought in more playmakers in the offseason and want to see whether Christian Ponder can be a franchise quarterback.

And maybe he will set the record at 2,500 yards. It would be a remarkable achievement. Of the seven players to top 2,000 rushing yards, five played in the postseason that season. Only O.J. Simpson's Buffalo Bills in 1973 and Chris Johnson's Tennessee Titans in 2009 failed to capitalize on their star's success. So Peterson could do it again, and the Vikings could play in the postseason.

If he did, we all would laud Peterson for being a machine. He would have his hardware and a confirmed path straight to Canton (where he is headed anyway, by the way).

Peterson wants it and wants it badly, and that's great.

But the Vikings shouldn't want it and undoubtedly don't. They want to use the threat of Peterson inside to create opportunities for Jennings and Patterson on the outside. They want to stretch the field. They want to see Ponder use his arm to beat teams. This isn't the 1980s. In most cases, the quarterback has to be able to beat you, either the old-school way (stand in the pocket) or new-school way (pistol and read option).

The Vikings want that from Ponder. They need it from Ponder. If the Vikings require a record-smashing performance from Peterson, that means they got a horrible performance from Ponder. That means they'll be starting over, and Peterson will be further than ever from achieving his even more important goal of winning multiple Super Bowls. In the end, that's what matters most.