When it was reported that Adrian Peterson was on the trade block and multiple teams might inquire about what the Saints wanted in exchange, people chuckled, because Peterson had not really done a whole lot with New Orleans, other than stare down Sean Payton on the sideline.
And when the Cardinals actually traded for Peterson, people had a very big laugh.
the Cardinals trading for Adrian Peterson, I don't get it. The team is old enough as it is. I'm absolutely convinced they're toast now.— Brad James (@BradfatherSpeak) October 10, 2017
Adrian Peterson hasn't scored a TD since Week 17, 2015.— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) October 10, 2017
Adrian Peterson goes to Arizona.......the Cardinals are officially my pick to win the 2012 Super Bowl.— Brent Wiley (@Bizwye) October 10, 2017
Adrian Peterson sucks bad.— Casey Gisclair (@casey_gisclair) October 10, 2017
That the Saints got anything for him is a net gain. He has no explosiveness at all anymore.
Even some of my colleagues scoffed at the move.
Here's the problem with AP in Arizona. The Cardinals already have him. His name is Chris Johnson.— Nick Kostos (@TheKostos) October 10, 2017
It was OK to be a little sarcastic. That's what social media basically revolved around, and it's not like A.P. was doing a whole lot in New Orleans. Turns out, though, that Cardinals GM Steve Keim and his staff in Arizona might know what they're doing; few personnel men have been better at bringing in veterans who looked like they were washed and getting maximum production.
They got just that from Peterson in his first game with the Cardinals. After rushing for 81 yards on 27 carries and no touchdowns in four games with the Saints, Peterson promptly posted an eye-popping line of 26 carries, 134 yards and two touchdowns.
It was a breath of life for the Cardinals -- for the first time all season Carson Palmer attempted less than 34 passes in a game. Arizona came into the Week 6 matchup against the Buccaneers averaging just over 51 rushing yards per game. Peterson's big day bumped them up to a much nicer 69.8 yards per game and pushed them over the 3.0 yards per carry mark. Eight carries into his day, Peterson had the highest rushing total for a Cardinals player this year.
The players on the roster looked more enthused too, in the way that they played. That sounds odd, but Peterson's reckless abandon and rage-filled runs pretty clearly stunned and inspired the Cardinals.
"All of a sudden the first drive happens and there's a lot of kind of dropped jaws, like 'Wow, what did we just see?' " Palmer said. "Then the second drive it happened, the third drive it happened. So, it's a luxury being a quarterback and having him back there."
For one week, Peterson managed to reinvigorate a franchise that looked like it would flounder in what could be the final season for Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and Bruce Arians. The questions to ask are: 1) how did he do it and 2) can he keep doing it?
Examining Peterson's big day
The combination of play-calling, blocking and Peterson running with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind resulted in some big plays early. On a second-and-2, the Cardinals called a run off the left end that featured a pulling guard -- the defense is clearly expecting Peterson to crash the inside hole and pick up the first down. Instead he bounces outside and, with the assistance of Larry Fitzgerald putting a blaster of a block on safety Chris Conte, picks up 11 yards.
Peterson deserves credit for shrugging off Vernon Hargreaves like a fly and for the "bleep you guys for calling me old and slow" moves on the outside. Peterson looked like a contact junkie running as hard as he could for his next hit.
On Peterson's touchdown run, he did two things that remind you of how special he is. He had a pair of choices as to which way he wanted to run. He led rookie middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith to Beckwith's right with his eyes and then promptly cut back to the middle. By the time Beckwith was trying to recover, he got washed out by blockers.
You might have seen it in the GIF, but look at the hole A.P. got through at the line of scrimmage. A washed-up 32-year-old running back doesn't do that and then rip off a 27-yard touchdown run.
This was just from the first drive, but it was more of the same all day. Peterson was so aggressive in his decisiveness that at times he was juking guys unnecessarily. His lateral explosion wasn't just impressive, it was borderline shocking. The Saints didn't use him and shipped him out for a sixth-round pick!
Which leads us back to the future.
Why Peterson can keep thriving
The Cardinals, again, were one of the worst running teams in the league prior to Week 6. Part of that is losing the best offensive player on the roster in David Johnson, roughly the Cardinals equivalent to seeing Aaron Rodgers go down. (Don't @ me -- Johnson almost hit 2,000 yards from scrimmage last year.) Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington filled in for Johnson, but both guys are dancers, running backs who like to float and float and look for holes, hoping to break the big run.
Peterson puts his foot in the ground and GOES. He's also capable of forcing more missed tackles than the other guys Arizona has trotted out this season and stands a very good chance of piling on his lead for yards after contact per rushing attempt. Via Pro Football Focus:
Yards After Contact/Rush
Missed Tackles (Rushing)
Peterson has been there one game and he already leads the team in missed tackles, elusive rating and yards after contact per rush. He's just a more dominating physical presence than anything the Cardinals had after Johnson went down with an injury.
He gives them a different dimension to the offense and he actually caused Bruce Arians, one of the more aggressive coaches in all of football, to dial things back a bit.
"If anything, it's more conservative," Arians said recently when asked about his playbook with Peterson in the backfield.
Arians told Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com that the first play of the game was designed to be a flea-flicker pass, but when the defense lined up the way they did, Arians was forced to check out and hope Peterson would "gain three yards." He bullied his way for eight.
The relationship is symbiotic: because the Cards have Palmer (still plenty capable of winging it deep), Arians ("no risk it, no biscuit") and a host of dangerous deep weapons (John Brown, Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson), plus the always capable Larry Fitzgerald, opponents won't be able to stack the box.
Arizona was feeding Peterson Sunday and he still only saw eight-man boxes a minuscule 19.23 percent of the time against Tampa, according to NFL.com's Next Gen Stats. That ranked 24th of all running backs in Week 6.
That should last, especially with the play-action passing game remaining a lethal weapon for Palmer. On a third-and-2 early in the second quarter against the Bucs, Tampa loaded up eight guys in the box, Palmer ran a quick fake to Peterson and got single coverage with three receivers. Jaron Brown got inside separation from Brent Grimes and Palmer found his man for a chunk play.
Arians dialed up play action in a perfect spot for a touchdown pass to Fitzgerald later, running a hard fake to Peterson that got EVERYONE to bite and left Fitz strolling into the end zone all alone. Palmer hung tough and made an easy throw to his go-to receiver for the score.
Not everyone is going to be as undisciplined as the Bucs defense was on Sunday, but Peterson serving as a viable weapon in the running game will have an immediate impact on Palmer's efficiency through the air. He completed his first 14 passes and was able to only throw 22 on the day, while still managing 283 yards through the air. That's a tidy little 12.83 yards per attempt, just the way Palmer and Arians want it.
The schedule is conducive for Peterson to have success too. All four of the Cardinals upcoming opponents are in the bottom half of yards per game allowed.
Rush Yards/Game Allowed
Rush Yards/Carry Allowed
FO Rush DVOA Rank
The better two defenses on there just lost some pretty important players for run-stuffing purposes -- Arik Armstead of the 49ers (16th in PFF's run stop percentage among 4-3 DEs) has a broken hand and could go on IR, while the Texans just lost J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus.
No one is trying to sell the Seahawks as a questionable defense, but they are vulnerable against the run this year. The bye comes at a pretty perfect time too -- Peterson can leave it on the field against the Rams in London and rest his old bones for two weeks.
It helps a ton for the Cardinals to get help back on the offensive line -- D.J. Humphries and Alex Boone returned to the field last week. Feel free to dog the Cards line, too. They haven't been great this year and they've been horrendous in pass protection, giving up an adjusted sack rate of 8.4 percent, good for 23rd in the NFL.
But if you dig into the offensive line stats at Football Outsiders a little deeper, there's reason to believe the acquisition of Peterson could be a perfect marriage for this offensive line. Arizona ranks 23rd overall but they have a Power Run Success rate of 73 percent. That's 10th in the league. Peterson, if you haven't figured it out, is a power runner. Asking guys like Humphries, Boone and Veldheer to throw caution to the wind and just maul the guys in front of them is a pretty perfect assignment for that physical wrecking crew.
Now they have a back who loves to run downhill and will make his lineman look right. It does take two to tango in the run game," former NFL lineman turned analyst Geoff Schwartz said. "The linemen can open up holes but if the back doesn't have a sense of where the play is designed to run, or even where the ball might hit based on a certain look, then there is no run game. Peterson knows it all and it showed in his first weekend in Arizona."
Arians confirmed after the game that Peterson knows and "excels" in the plays the Cardinals already have. It's a natural fit with the offensive line.
Adrian Peterson is a 32-year-old running back. The bottom could fall out, or he could suffer an injury. But the guy we saw running against the Bucs was an explosive, dynamic, power runner. Peterson was jumping and cutting laterally the way he did in his prime, and he was gaining steam while pulling away from tackles with that signature high step of his.
There might be some concern about how to handle the return of David Johnson, but it actually fits together fairly well. Arians has suggested Johnson might be back by Thanksgiving (the Cards Thanksgiving weekend game is that Texans matchup), but Peterson running well would give the Cardinals wiggle room to push Johnson's timeline back and/or make sure their franchise back is fully healthy.
Peterson could care less about conserving himself. He's on a team that, heading into Week 7, is 3-3 and somehow in the NFL playoff race after a questionable start (overtime wins over the 49ers and Colts are the only plusses on the schedule prior to last Sunday). It's a team loaded with guys making a last push with a core group and Peterson is part of it. If he burns himself out or gets injured, reinforcements will eventually arrive.
The scheme is a fit, there are carries galore to be had, the offensive line better suits a group that can play smashmouth and set up vertical shots, the players there are long-time, venerable veterans who want to make a run and Peterson showed Sunday that he's far from finished in terms of being a dominant football player.
Peterson and the Cardinals are a good fit and one that could keep on working well in the foreseeable future.