Wolverine plays for the Minnesota Vikings.
Blessed with miraculous healing properties, Adrian Peterson roared back from a devastating knee injury late in 2011 to win Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year honors, a rare feat these days at his position.
Peterson won that MVP award by strapping the state of Minnesota onto his back and running over his foes en route to a playoff berth, narrowly missing out on the rushing record in the process. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry after contact. The devastating runner sliced through defenses like adamantium claws through drywall.
To put that into perspective, he averaged more yardage after getting hit than Darren McFadden, Michael Turner, Trent Richardson, Mikel Leshoure or Vick Ballard did overall. Peterson was harder to bring down than a Wall Street banker last year, the main reason why he led the league with 6.0 yards per carry and 2,097 yards rushing.
The superhuman performance Peterson put on last year was nothing compared to what he plans on doing in 2013 if he can help it (via Zach Stoloff of NESN.com):
I want to try to set the ball higher than that. I want to make it the 2,500 club. It’s definitely out there. I feel like it’s definitely attainable…Enjoy this last year, because the record’s going down, with ease.
That quote is double take-worthy. Marvelous as he may be, however, are the Vikings railroading his chances at breaking that elusive record, let alone achieve his eye-popping, 2,500-yard goal?
After all, they recently moved the league's most dynamic player—Percy Harvin—to Seattle, prompting a sad response from Peterson himself.
The best all around player I ever seen or you'll ever see! Goes to Seattle! I feel like I just got kicked in the stomach. Several times!!!— Adrian Peterson (@AdrianPeterson) March 11, 2013
The Vikings did net a first-round pick in the trade, which they could use to help replace Harvin. They also recently signed Greg Jennings, who is a quality receiver even if he is no Harvin.
Of course, all the receivers in the world might not do much good if the quarterback can't get them the ball.
Christian Ponder has come under fire as Minnesota's starter, to the point where the Vikings signed Matt Cassel with, perhaps, the intention of staging a preseason quarterback battle.
Assuming the third-year starter can beat Cassel—a relatively safe bet, but anything is possible—the Minnesota offense will once again be manned by a weak-armed quarterback. Without a credible deep threat or the ability to go deep with any sort of consistency—Ponder attempted just 36 passes that flew over 20 yards, completing just eight of them last season—defenses will continue to choke up against the run.
But that is nothing new for All Day, who saw loaded fronts all season in 2012. In fact, he got stronger as the season wore on. After losing Harvin for the season in Week 9, Peterson averaged nearly 163 yards per game, 55 more than he had averaged prior to that point.
Incidentally, an average of 160 yards per game would net him 2,560 yards in a season.
Some of that has to do with his supporting cast, which included fullback Jerome Felton and right tackle Phil Loadholt, who is a bulldozer in the run game. They both re-signed, which is good for Peterson and the ground game.
It would appear, therefore, that there is a bit of a status quo when it comes to the offense in Minnesota, for better or for worse. But what of other factors in Peterson's way?
In fact, the NFL may well be ruining Peterson's chances more so than his own team. After all, the death knell of smashmouth football has been rung if reactions to the NFL's latest rule changes are any indication.
Proposed rule changes include would-be deterrents for violent running—purposefully lowering the crown of your helmet will now result in a penalty and fine—and Peterson is a brute.
In order to lower ur shoulder u obviously have to lower ur head. It's a way of protecting ur self from a tackler and a way to break tackles— Matt Forte (@MattForte22) March 17, 2013
Good luck, officials. RT @rapsheet: The crown-of-the-helmet rule has also passed by a wide margin, I'm told.— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) March 20, 2013
They might as well slap a parachute on Peterson and tie one of his arms to his side if he is forced to lighten up his running style. Has the NFL de-clawed Wolverine?
In reality, the rushing king is unlikely to change anything about the way he holds court due to this rule change. Considering he came just nine yards shy of the record, even one long run called back because Peterson ducked his head could ruin his chances to catch Eric Dickerson for the record.
Of course, the law of averages could be the biggest foil in Peterson's quest.
Prior to his assault on the record books, there had been six 2,000-yard rushers—O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, Jamal Lewis and Chris Johnson. None of them repeated that feat. These are the Knights Who Say No.
The closest any one of them ever got to that promised land was Dickerson, who rushed for 1,821 yards two years after setting the record Peterson nearly broke.
In fact, the best rushing season those special running backs could muster after hitting 2,000 yards averaged just 1,396 yards. Most of those running backs were younger than Peterson—whose 28th birthday happens to be today—when they got there.
History is not kind to Peterson's chances of getting there again. Peterson seems bound and determined to reach those heights again, though, and he is a rare breed.
So are the Vikings ruining Peterson's chance at repeating history?
Considering the offense will not look terribly different than it did last season, the answer is no. Despite notable flaws around him, Peterson did nearly break the record last season despite coming back from that knee injury and playing through a sports hernia.
It is more likely that other factors will contribute to short-circuiting the stud running back's lofty goal than what Minnesota has done this offseason.
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