If you haven’t yet heard, the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson’s nickname is A.D., which stands for All Day. He’s also been known as “Purple Jesus”, because some say he is a savior. But what they don’t tell you about Peterson is that behind the flash and dash lies a perfectly normal and stoppable running back.
Case in point, any time the Bears get ready to face the Vikings, you’re going to hear all week how Peterson has owned the Bears and has put up remarkable statistics. Indeed, he’s rushed 62 times for 423 yards and 7 touchdowns. That’s a 6.8 yards-per-carry average. That’s an alarming and frightful total, right?
Not so fast. Let’s take a deeper look into these numbers, shall we? Statistics can be deceiving, and in this case, they certainly are.
In football, in regards to rating big plays by running backs, the milestone number to watch is 20. Everybody talks about how many 20-yard carries a running back has to determine how effective he is. And that’s where I think NFL statisticians have it wrong. Who cares about the number of 20-yard carries a running back has? That’s for fantasy geeks and people who care more about individual superstars than they do about team competition. That doesn’t accurately tell you if your team is winning or losing. The two statistics that I care about that determine the success of your run game are number of run plays and time of possession.
Nevertheless, Purple Jesus is leading the NFL this season with 14 carries of 20-plus yards. It’s nice to have a running back with big-play capability. Bears fans should know. One of the biggest criticisms of Cedric Benson during his short tenure with the team was his lack of big plays. In Benson’s three seasons with the Bears, he had 8 carries of 20 or more yards. By comparison, Matt Forte ranks 14th in the league with half of that in just a little more than half a season.
But I’m digressing. Going back to Peterson’s alarming statistics against the Bears, his success is far less imposing when you take away his 20-plus yards carries. Without his 6 attempts of more than 20-plus yards against the Bears, Peterson has rushed 56 times for 139 yards and 3 touchdowns. That’s an average of 2.4 yards per carry — keyword is average. Because, in other words, when not breaking a big play, he’s average.
I can — but won’t because this is a Bears blog — write a full column about why Peterson is not the best back in the league and why comparisons to Bo Jackson — which were made by Bo’s one-time teammate, FOX analyst Howie Long — are ridiculous. The only comparison between the two is the injury problems Peterson has had for the last 6 years of his football career — college included.
So, for the Bears to stop the Messiah, it’s going to take a complete effort for a full 60 minutes. The Bears have, and will continue to contain Peterson so long as they don’t miss an assignment and remember to use proper tackling technique. In last season’s matchup at Soldier Field, Peterson’s 224 yards were due to overpursuit and missed arm tackles.
This season, the Bears have a much better run defense. In their 48-41 victory over the Vikings in Week 7, if you take away Peterson’s 54-yard touchdown run, which, again, was a result of a blown assignment and poor pursuit by the rapidly-aging Mike Brown, the Bears held Peterson to just 67 yards and 1 touchdown on 21 carries. That’s just 3.1 yards per carry. And since Peterson’s 14 carries this season of more than 20 yards are a mere 5.8% of his total rushing attempts, it’s not impossible to prevent him from picking up big yardage on carries, however difficult it may seem.
There’s a common question asked when comparing two players, and that is: “If you were starting a football team, which running back would you take first?” I would take LaDainian Tomlinson in a heartbeat without any second thoughts. That’s because while Peterson may be the best runner in the NFL, he’s far from being the best running back. As Peterson gets older and his speed declines, his career will begin fading at a much more rapid pace than most other backs.
Unfortunately for the Bears, he’s still young and explosive. Prevent the big play, and the Bears win while making Peterson look human. Blow assignments and miss arm tackles, the Bears lose and Peterson continues to be hailed as Purple Jesus.