Adrian Peterson has returned to the league lead in rushing yards (961), powering the Vikings to the top of the NFL leaderboard in rushing yards per game (147.2).
A key part of that is that Peterson's greatness hasn't dissipated since he turned 30 this spring. Another key, however, is relatively new: the bond that is forming between Peterson and running backs coach Kirby Wilson, who had two Super Bowl rings (with Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh) before arriving in Minnesota in 2014. The strong running game could position the Vikings to perform well in approaching cold weather games, starting Sunday when Minnesota (7-2) aims to defend first place in the NFC North against Green Bay (6-3).
Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune writes that there's more to coaching an all-time great than pointing toward the end zone:
*But if Wilson has learned one thing coaching NFL running backs, including a pair of Hall of Famers in Emmitt Smith and Curtis Martin, it is that some running backs have big egos and don't want to be coached. But most of the time, the great ones do. *
"And Adrian fits into that category," Wilson told Vensel.
*Wilson would be the first person to say that Peterson deserves most of the credit for his successful return to the NFL. But Wilson's attention to preparation during the week and the self-assuredness to be hands-off on Sundays and just let Peterson go out and do his thing has played a role in his re-establishing himself with authority. *
Peterson said Wilson is a "great guy and an even better coach" with an effective teaching style. Although separated by 24 years of age difference, Peterson likened the 54-year-old Wilson to a brother. Vensel noted how Wilson nearly died in a fire in January 2012 and suffered severe burns but made it to safety and has turned the "harrowing ordeal" into something positive.
"I've always enjoyed life. But it was just another validation that you have to enjoy each and every day," Wilson said. "You're not here for a long time. You're here for a good time. So do the right things and good things will happen for you."
Respect for Zimmer
Andrew Krammer of 1500ESPN.com noted the respect* *Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers expressed this week for Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, pointing "to the deception and discipline necessary for Vikings defenders to carry out a blueprint that many other NFL coaches have tried to copy."
*Rodgers is no stranger to the chaos, having gone 0-2 against Zimmer's Cincinnati defense in games in 2009 and 2013. Rodgers managed just two touchdowns and two interceptions over both games, finishing each with a passer rating well below his career average of 105.8. *
He called a unique facet of Zimmer defenses "the forefront of a revolution*," referring to the Vikings' wall of seven or eight defenders hovering over the line of scrimmage — typically on a third down or obvious passing play — which is designed to "make it a cloudy read for the quarterback," said linebacker Anthony Barr. *
"[Zimmer] gets his guys on the same page, understanding timing of the defense based on the front and pressure," Rodgers said. "There aren't a lot of discipline mistakes and mental errors. They get the most out of their guys."
*While the architect, Zimmer, has garnered much credit from opposing quarterbacks and head coaches for his disciplined defense, the players make it happen. From linebackers to cornerbacks to safeties, each level of the Vikings' defense is involved in beehive blitz schemes that generate pressure from different angles out of similar looks. The loaded fronts make it seem like they're always sending extra pressure, when in reality they've blitzed less than one-third of the plays this season, according to Pro Football Focus. *
Before safety or a linebacker can come on a blitz or drop into coverage, Zimmer has done a considerable amount of teaching.
ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert writes that Zimmer's tactics in a defensive team meeting are "intense."
*Players sit upright in a meeting room at the Minnesota Vikings' practice facility. They're on the edges of their seats. Their eyes are wide, frenzied and occasionally darting. Their brains churn. Their bodies sweat. No one knows when it's coming. *
*Everson Griffen! What technique does the cornerback play on this call? *
*Harrison Smith? Who has contain? *
"You've got to be on your toes," defensive lineman Brian Robison said. "He'll ask you an off-the-wall question at any time."
Zimmer's teaching style is but a small part of the process that drives the *Midas Touch of the football. Wherever Zimmer has coached, be it in 14 years as an NFL defensive coordinator or 25 games as the Vikings' head coach, the defense has improved and then excelled. *
Seifert made note that the Vikings have swung the scoreboard favorably. After allowing an NFL-most 30 points per game in 2013, the Vikings improved to 11th in the NFL in Zimmer's first season. Now, they're second stingiest, allowing 17.1 points per game.
*Zimmer has his methods, some obvious and some secretive, and no one but him knows them all, *Seifert wrote after setting out to understand a few.