In football, everyone looks better when a great running back returns…
In the months leading up to yesterday’s return to the field, the Minnesota Vikings found themselves uncertain about their running back, Adrian Peterson.
While everything on paper appeared favorable for the upcoming season, with the young and promising quarterback Teddy Bridgewater entering his second year, the unresolved situation with AP still cast a shadow over the organization.
With Peterson’s seemingly heartfelt return, confidence could once again flow freely through the organization, especially during the typically uplifting part of the NFL calendar that most other teams experience.
This sentiment was evident in the words of head coach Mike Zimmer upon AP’s return to the field yesterday:
“There’s really not a prettier sight than when he’s got the ball in his hands.”
Football players are primarily known for their prowess on the field, and few exemplify this as remarkably as Peterson.
Even someone as composed and devoted to football as Mike Zimmer can’t help but display emotion when the focus shifts from social issues back to the game itself.
One interpretation of Zimmer’s glimpse into the future suggests that this Vikings team will command respect.
Being a defensive coach at heart, Zimmer grasps the difficulty of containing a player with extraordinary abilities like Adrian Peterson. In his role as the team leader, Zimmer is also well-versed in the contractual facts surrounding this exceptional player – it was always clear that AP’s place was in Minnesota.
The coach underscored this fact yesterday by affirming that there were never any discussions about trading Peterson.
Zimmer’s approach is straightforward. “We’re ready to get back to football,” Zimmer emphasized.
The AP Effect
Like all NFL teams, the Vikings have a specific blueprint. They arrange their roster within the constraints of the salary cap to amplify and complement where they invest the most resources.
Adrian Peterson commands the highest salary on the Minnesota roster, making the run game and play-action crucial elements of the team’s strategy.
You might have preferred allocating the funds elsewhere if you lack this centerpiece.
In their initial meeting with the Detroit Lions last season, Teddy Bridgewater, in only his second career start, threw the ball 37 times, seldom relying on the running game, even in situations where it would have been prudent.
Clearly, with the preferred offensive components in place, the Vikings are poised to approach the game differently this season.
Suddenly, the quarterback’s performance shines under altered circumstances.
Do the outcomes shift? It’s uncertain. Yet, at least the games align more closely with the Vikings’ original roster design.
In Week 11, the Minnesota Vikings faced off against the struggling Chicago Bears, who had one of the weakest defenses in football then.
Despite this, the Vikings, in a 21-13 loss, only attempted 16 runs with their rookie quarterback against a defense that struggled against the run. Sixteen.
Would this have changed the outcome? Again, it’s hard to say. However, the Vikings are now armed to more assertively exploit weaknesses as they arise.
Moving to Week 12, the Vikings engaged in a close battle with the eventual NFC North champions, the Green Bay Packers.
The Vikings ultimately fell 24-21. Regardless of how you dissect it, the Vikings must believe that with a full roster, they’ve narrowed the gap with their rivals, even when handicapped on offense.
Admittedly, last year’s games are now irrelevant. But when offensive growth is sought, having Peterson back is a substantial blessing.
This isn’t just about Teddy Bridgewater’s development; it extends to young wide receiver Jarius Wright, whose work in intermediate routes won’t face as much congestion with defenses focused on stopping AP.
Likewise, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson’s pivotal “make or break year” just received a boost because nothing aids a big-play wide receiver more than a higher-priority distraction for the defense to contend with.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph is eager to rebound after a low-production year, and he should see many more opportunities in the play-action game, now viable with a potent running attack.
Ideally, new speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace thrives on deep balls, a buffet easier to come by if the defensive help isn’t concentrated in the deep part of the field due to a lack of run-pass conflict.
A remarkable aspect of football lies in how stellar performance in one position can positively impact the performance of others – every component is interlinked.
Coaches are elated with a player of AP’s caliber making a return, and it opens up more opportunities for other players.
Moreover, the focus shifts back to the game itself, which is ultimately why we’re drawn to this sport in the first place…