It does not take a great football mind to understand the Vikings are a better team with Adrian Peterson. Although the offense got the job done plenty of times in the 15 games without him last season and rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater eventually made his debut and displayed plenty of promise, the Vikings missed having Peterson toting the rock.
Peterson is back now, and here are seven ways the Vikings instantly improved with his return.
1. Team identity is restoredThe NFL is a quarterback-driven league and the Vikings have a promising one in Bridgewater, but since 2007 and still today Peterson has been the driving force behind the team's offense. More importantly, the team knows that when #28 is the backfield, they have a good chance to win any game they play. As Bridgewater develops and goes through the natural ups and downs of playing the most important position in all of sports, the Vikings will lean on Peterson to shoulder the load, establish physicality and break off edge-of-your-seat, heart-pumping touchdowns runs.
2. Ground game is more explosiveContrary to what one might think, play callers don't always want to methodically work their way down the field. Sure, there is a time and a place for time-consuming, tempo-setting drives, but for the most part offenses want to pick up yards in big chunks. With Peterson taking handoffs, the Vikings ground game is instantly more explosive because he can take a run that should net six yards and turn it into an 18-yard run in an instant, and he can score from anywhere on the field.
3. Play-action is more effectiveWith Peterson both running downhill and pressing the edges to wear out the defense, expect teams to keep stacking the box to stop him. Eventually, LBs and Ss will get sucked up into the action and that will yield opportunities for Bridgewater to pull a handoff back in, reach the top of his drop, and target one of his receivers breaking free from man coverage.
4. Patterson-Peterson dynamic returnsCordarrelle Patterson was the Vikings leading rusher in Week 1 last year, ripping off three runs for 102 yards and a touchdown. But that was the last game Peterson played for the Vikings in 2014 and it was the last time Patterson was truly an effective and explosive weapon on the ground. It's no coincidence that Patterson's effectiveness in this role diminished when Peterson was absent. The tactic of having Patterson attack the edges of a defense with his speed on end arounds, jet sweeps and reverses is enhanced (and, arguably, made possible) by having Peterson in the backfield as a threat to do the same or attack a defense between the tackles.
5. Speed on offense increasesThe Vikings had a bunch of fast players last season even without Peterson in the mix. Now add in both Peterson and Mike Wallace, and the increase in speed for the Vikings offense and at offensive coordinator Norv Turner's disposal is profound. Speed puts pressure on the defense and forces it to react somehow, either by personnel groupings, scheme or both.
6. RB stable is deepWithout Peterson, the Vikings were solid at RB. Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon teamed to shoulder the load. Asiata scored nine times on the ground and McKinnon showed promise as a rookie. They shouldered the load and helped the Vikings rank 11th in yards/attempt and 14th in rushing yards in 2014. Joe Banyard, who played well in the 2014 preseason, free agent signing DuJuan Harris and youngster Dominique Williams filled out the depth chart heading into the 2015 offseason program. But add Peterson to the fold, and that RB stable looks even better. He's the best RB in the NFL and now a bunch of guys who had formed a solid crew must compete for potentially one less spot.
7. Focus is (solely) on moving forwardTo whatever extent anyone inside or outside the walls of Winter Park felt Peterson's absence from the team was a distraction, it is now in the rear view mirror. Peterson is back, and the team welcomed him with open arms. Now, everyone is moving in the same direction and the focus is on moving forward.