Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
We talked yesterday about how Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is putting together a season for the ages, and now has the NFL single-season record firmly in his sights. The current record is 2,105 yards, set by Eric Dickerson of the (then) Los Angeles Rams in 1984. If Peterson gets the 294 yards he needs in the season's final two games that he needs to surpass Dickerson, it will definitely be one of the greatest seasons an NFL running back has ever put up.
The thing is. . .it might be already. And it might even be better than Dickerson's 1984 season already. Yes, we're biased, and admittedly so. . .but there are plenty of numbers that will back that up.
Let's start first with the workload that each of these backs had to shoulder during their mammoth seasons. In 1984, Dickerson carried the ball a whopping 379 times, an average of 23.7 times per game. Thus far in 2012, Peterson has just 289 carries, an average of 20.6 carries per contest. In order to get the same number of carries that Dickerson got in 2012, Peterson would have to carry the ball forty-five times. . .in each of the next two games. This shows that Peterson is doing more with fewer opportunities than Dickerson was in 1984.
(By the way, at his current yards/carry average, if Peterson did carry the ball 90 times in the final two games of the year, he'd obliterate Dickerson's record with a total of 2,376 rushing yards. But that's not happening.)
The way these carries are distributed is a bit surprising as well. In 1984, Dickerson had two games out of 16 where he didn't carry the football at least 20 times. He had 19 carries in a 30-28 loss to Atlanta, and just 13 carries in a 33-0 loss to San Francisco. Peterson, on the other hand, has had 18 carries or fewer in half of Minnesota's games this season. Yes, there have been seven occasions this year where the game's best running back has been handed the ball 18 times or less. (Not coincidentally, Minnesota's record in those seven games is 2-5.)
I understand that the Vikings' passing offense is bad, which is what makes Peterson's season that much more remarkable in this era in NFL history. But the Rams' pass offense in 1984 was nothing spectacular, either. They started the season with Vince Ferragamo at quarterback. . .and after Ferragamo threw two touchdowns to eight interceptionsin the Rams' first three games of the season, Los Angeles turned to Jeff Kemp the rest of the way.
Those two men combined to complete less than 50% of their passes, and in 16 games attempted just 358 throws. By comparison, Christian Ponder has already put the ball in the air 425 times this season. Both the 1984 Rams and 2012 Vikings had woefully inept pass offenses. . .the Vikings are currently last in the NFL in passing, and the Rams were 27th in a 28-team league. . .but then-Rams offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye apparently didn't have the annoying urges to get away from the run that Bill Musgrave gets from time to time.
To say nothing of that whole "getting your leg blown up" thing that ended Peterson's season in 2011. To my knowledge, Dickerson came into the 1984 season with a clean bill of health. I'm not sayin'. . .I'm just sayin' is all.
There's the issue of ball security as well. Yes, we know that Adrian Peterson has put the ball on the turf at times, but has really put the effort forth to curb that problem over the years. In 1984, Eric Dickerson put the ball on the turf a whopping fourteen. . .yes, that's 14. . .times. Or, to put it another way, he had one more fumble in the 1984 season than Adrian Peterson has had in the last four seasons combined. (And to blow your mind further, those 14 fumbles by Dickerson were only the fourth-highest total in the NFL in 1984, though they were the most by a non-quarterback.) Peterson has learned the importance of holding on to the football.
Thus far, Peterson is averaging nearly three-fourths of a yard more per carry than Dickerson did. Currently, Peterson's average stands at 6.27 yards/carry, while Dickerson finished the 1984 season at 5.55 ypc. As Kyle pointed out in his article, at this point Peterson actually has more rushing yardage than Dickerson had going into the final two weeks of the 1984 season (Peterson is at 1,812, while Dickerson had 1,792). And, like Peterson, Dickerson faced a Week 15 match-up against Houston. In this case, it was the Houston Oilers. . .and they were nowhere near the caliber of the Houston Texans team that the Vikings will face this Sunday.
The 1984 Oilers were a sorry 3-13 outfit that had the worst rush defense in the NFL that season. Dickerson took full advantage with his highest yardage output of the season, throwing up 215 yards on 27 carries and adding two scores. The 2012 Texans, on the other hand, are 12-2 and bucking for the top seed in the AFC playoffs. They also have the NFL's fifth-best rush defense, allowing just 93.2 yards/game. But Adrian Peterson has been blowing away top-notch run defenses all season, so it would be foolish to count him out now.
If Peterson were to maintain his yards/carry average, he would need 47 carries over the next two games to pass Dickerson's mark. During his eight game stretch where he's been going bonkers on everyone that gets in front of him, he's been averaging exactly 22 per contest, and over his last three he's been averaging slightly over 25. I have a feeling that he's going to be averaging more than that over the next two games, and hopefully that means he'll be in line to break a record that has stood for nearly three decades in an era when the sport is all about the pass.