Statistics can often be used to mislead and misrepresent. They can be distorted to suit many purposes. But thankfully, in certain cases, they can also be useful to hammer home a point and to that end, they stand this morning in support of what Adrian Peterson has just achieved.
The 2,000-yard rushing season has long been the Holy Grail for NFL runners. Prior to OJ Simpson becoming the first to do it in 1973, it was talked about in hushed tones because people thought it was out of reach, even to the greatest.
And the fact that Simpson cracked that barrier didn’t diminish the challenge at all. Great runners came after him and tried but failed. In his immediate wake, Earl Campbell couldn’t do it, Tony Dorsett came up short, Franco Harris couldn’t get there and not even Walter Payton found his way to the magic mark.
Eric Dickerson was the second man to do it and he did so in such emphatic style that his 1984 record stands to this day, although on Sunday night in Minneapolis, I really thought it was going to fall after 28 years only for Peterson to come up eight yards short.
And if you remember 1984, you will also recall how miffed Dickerson must have been. He became only the second man ever to break 2,000 yards and shattered the old record and yet he didn’t even win NFL MVP that year because he only happened to go and do it in the same season as Dan Marino broke the record for most passing yards (5,084) and most passing touchdowns (48) in a single season. Talk about bad luck!
Since Dickerson ran rampant, there have been five more running backs who have cracked the code and entered the rushing game’s most exclusive club. Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, Jamal Lewis and Chris Johnson all pitched in prior to Peterson becoming number seven this week.
But if anyone tries to convince you with some old cliché that 2,000 yards is not what it used to be or that these guys now play 16-game seasons, so it is easier, tell them to go look at the statistics and then tell them to shut up because in this category, the numbers really do not lie.
For a start, take a look at the average yards per carry numbers. For any running back, averaging more than four yards per carry is the goal. If you can do that throughout a career, you are going to be pretty decent. As an example, Walter Payton, who held the career rushing yards record for long enough after his retirement, averaged 4.4 yards per carry over his 13 seasons so if you are in that ballpark, you are in good company.
In the magnificent seven seasons of 2,000 yards-plus, all seven of these guys averaged more than five yards per carry and three of them managed six yards per carry or more. Over the course of a season, that is off the charts and certainly not something you keep up over a career.
If you take a look at Dickerson’s record year of 2,105 yards, he did it at a superb 5.6 yards per carry average which is better than Lewis’s 5.3 or Davis’s 5.1 and the same as Johnson. Peterson managed 6.0 which is the same as Simpson and only just behind Sanders at 6.1. Talk about rubbing shoulders with greatness.
On the list of seven, Peterson also comes second in the great years for the number of catches he added. He hauled in 40 this season for another 217 yards, behind only Johnson and his 50 catches in 2009.
And once more, if there is any doubt about whether or not it is becoming easier, take a look at all the backs in more recent times who couldn’t get there. Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin, LaDainian Tomlinson, Marshall Faulk, Marcus Allen, Thurman Thomas, Fred Taylor. Some of them, of course, were not in offensive set-ups that concentrated so much on one back but that should not water down what it is these players have achieved.
However, when it comes to achievement, Peterson had something to say the other night that brought to mind a good point. He was doing the usual self-deprecating bit about not looking for the record but just wanting to do what was best for the team and yet when you take a look at the six who went before him, as good as their seasons were and as much as they helped their teams in those seasons, only one of them won the Super Bowl in the year in which they dominated the league. Terrell Davis in 1998 helped Denver to their second consecutive title.
Whether or not it is coincidence, Davis was also the only one of the seven who really dominated in scoring touchdowns in his 2,000-yard season. The Broncos back had 21 on the ground that year while the other six 2,000-yard rushers scored only between 11 and 14 each.
There is one guy who really should be on a list like this and because of that, I decided to see if there was some way to bend the stats to get him a mention. I was not lucky enough to see Jim Brown play. He had his finest campaign the year before I was born. But I have seen the footage and I have listened to those who did see him tell tales of Superman in shoulder pads.
Believe it or not, he finished his nine-year career as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and with a yards-per-carry average of 5.2 – for his career, not just one season! Only two other rushers with more than 9,000 career yards have averaged 5.0 and they were Barry Sanders and Joe Perry.
In 1963, in just 14 games, Brown piled up 1,863 yards on the ground and did that on just 291 carries at a staggering 6.4 average. That meant he had an average of 20.786 carries per game. Had they played 16 games in a season back then, and Brown had carried an average of 20.786 times per game at a 6.4 yards per carry average, he would have had 332 carries for 2,128 yards, 23 yards more than Dickerson on 47 fewer carries.
Jim Brown was world class and regardless of anything else in their careers, the seven players on this list were extraordinary, even by their own standards, in their 2,000-yard seasons.
Peterson is the latest of them. Just because there are now seven, nobody should say that doing it is becoming easier. We should all simply applaud the achievement because no matter how many players do it, it still comes along not too often. It is always a joy to witness and my hat is off to Adrian Peterson this morning whether he manages to turn it into a Super Bowl or not.
Year Player Games Att Yards Ave TD Rec Yards
1984 Eric Dickerson 16 379 2105 5.6 14 21 139
2012 Adrian Peterson 16 348 2097 6.0 12 40 217
2003 Jamal Lewis 16 387 2066 5.3 14 26 205
1997 Barry Sanders 16 335 2053 6.1 11 33 305
1998 Terrell Davis 16 392 2008 5.1 21 25 217
2009 Chris Johnson 16 358 2006 5.6 14 50 503
1973 OJ Simpson 14 332 2003 6.0 12 6 70
1963 Jim Brown 14 291 1863 6.4 12 24 268
*If we play a little fantasy football, Jim Brown pro-rated over 16 games at his 1963 averages:
1963 Jim Brown 16 332 2128 6.4 14 27 306
If Adrian Peterson is going to be able to carry the Vikings all the way to the Super Bowl, his first obstacle is an instant rematch with the Packers. But rather than the balmy 70-degree, climate-controlled dome in Minneapolis that he enjoyed last week, he will have to find his feet at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
I can’t predict the weather days in advance but I’m pretty sure he won’t be enjoying 70 degrees on Saturday night in Wisconsin. Welcome to hell, Adrian.
Lambeau Field in January is not for the faint-hearted and that is probably best-illustrated if I tell you that the long-rang forecast for Saturday night in Green Bay is mild, perhaps even benign – at least by Packers standards.
By Saturday evening, the pleasant daytime temperature of 25 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s about seven below freezing point) is due to fall off to around 17F. And if the Vikings don’t fancy that, they should note that early this week, the night-time temps were down to about 4F.
Thursday this week was predicted to be the only day with a real prospect of snow but there is still a chance on Saturday of more than just touchdown passes falling out of the sky.
The Vikings and Peterson laid down a marker on the Pack on Sunday night and carry significant momentum into Saturday’s playoff game. But this is sudden death at Lambeau Field on a freezing cold night. It requires a totally different mind-set and definitely a back-up Plan B because it is the sort of place and conditions where even great running backs – even 2,000-yard backs – can come unstuck.
If Peterson gets on track early on Saturday night, he can be the game-changer but Lambeau in January has so many possibilities that the Vikings have to go there with something in reserve. There is too much on the line in that scenario and in those conditions to stake it all on one player.
There are some fabulous match-ups in the opening round of the playoffs this weekend but I am itching to see the Seahawks and Redskins go at it on Sunday night.
If momentum really has that much to do with winning, then who in their right minds would want to take on Seattle right now. They are on one of those runs which suggests that despite not winning their division, they have the ability to be dangerous in the playoffs.
Not only did they finish the season with a perfect 8-0 home record, they managed to beat Green Bay, New England and San Francisco on home turf, albeit with a dodgy replacement officials call against the Packers. In the last five games of the season, they beat a decent Bears team on the road, thrashed Arizona, thrashed Buffalo, thrashed division champions San Francisco and beat St Louis.
They are up against possibly the most exciting young prospect in the league in Robert Griffin and the only problem with this game is that it might not live up to the hype but I can’t wait.
Playoff football – you just can’t beat it.