Adrian Peterson wasn't his usual self versus Niners
In Week 1, we saw plenty of players return after missing time last year, including: Eagles QB Sam Bradford, Cardinals QB Carson Palmer, 49ers LB NaVorro Bowman, Texans OLB Jadeveon Clowney, and Chiefs S Eric Berry. Each of them produced flashes of the player they once were, giving reason to believe they can have a bright 2015 season.
One player who returned after missing nearly all of 2014—and had a game to forget—was Vikings RB Adrian Peterson.
Peterson was limited to just 10 carries, due in part to the Vikings being down late in the game. However, when the game was closer, he had just four first-half carries. Half of his attempts were for 1 yard or less, and he failed to have a double-digit yard carry. Peterson made just one player miss a tackle, and earned only a single first down.
Needless to say, the performance was nowhere near the Adrian Peterson of our memories.
Another surprising aspect of Peterson’s performance was the running back’s limited playing time. He played in just 64.3 percent of the game; in past recent seasons, he was averaging between 70–75 percent of snaps. In previous years, the Vikings rotated Peterson out on some third downs, or in general, to give him a rest. Last night, however, Minnesota rotated their running backs by drive.
It wasn’t surprising to see RB Jerick McKinnon own two drives after he averaged 4.8 yards per carry last year; it was surprising, though, to see Matt Asiata get two drives after he averaged just 3.5 yards per a season ago. Because the rotation was by drive and not situational, it won’t be surprising if Peterson continues to see his playing time limited.
Peterson’s decline in play isn’t too surprising; it began in 2013. From 2010 to 2012, he had 36 games with an above average run grade, compared to just six with a below average run grade. From 2013 to 2014, Peterson only had seven with an above average grade, and eight with a below average one. He averaged 3.0 yards after contact or better in each year from 2009 to 2012, but is now running on eight straight games below that mark, and three straight appearances averaging 1.6 yards after contact per carry or lower.
Declining playing time and production are a signs that Peterson’s best days are behind him. We still might see flashes of his former highlight-reel self when facing weaker defenses, but I don’t think it’s likely he returns to the top tier of running backs in 2015.