The Vikings have fielded one of the NFL’s weakest running attacks thanks to a league-low 70 rushing yards per game. Fortunately for Minnesota, help may soon be on the way.
Former MVP Adrian Peterson is targeting a mid-December return from the knee injury that’s kept him out of the lineup since Week 2, according to a report from ESPN’s Ben Goessling. He could return for the final two games of a regular season that’s been equal parts inspiring and frustrating for the Vikings.
The team placed Peterson on injured reserve in September after successful surgery to repair a torn meniscus. The move allowed Minnesota to add another player to their 53-man active roster while their star running back recuperated from the injury. They signed former Broncos tailback Ronnie Hillman to split carries with Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon.
Hillman ran for only 50 yards with the Vikings and was waived by the team on Monday. He was part of an epidemic of ineffective runners in Minnesota. The team’s tailbacks have combined to gain just 2.7 yards per carry this season — a mark by far the worst in the league.
Since Peterson was a member of the team’s preseason roster, the former MVP was technically able to return to the lineup after Week 8. However, the timeline needed to successfully rehab the cartilage tear cast doubt on Peterson rejoining the active roster before the end of the season. According to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, the minimum recovery time for a meniscus tear of this magnitude is three months and could last up to six.
But traditional rehab timelines don’t apply to Peterson and his Wolverine-esque healing powers. The prolific tailback tore his ACL and MCL late in the 2011 season but still managed to be ready for week one of the 2012 campaign. He put together the finest performance of his career that season. Peterson rushed for more than 2,000 yards and earned NFL MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, and Comeback Player of the Year honors.
He’ll have plenty to prove if he returns to the field in 2016. Peterson didn’t look like his old self in the first two games of the season. He ran for just 50 yards on 31 carries before tearing his meniscus — a paltry 1.6 yards per carry rate more than three yards fewer than his career average.
The Vikings were able to shoot out to a 5-0 start without much semblance of a running game. That flaw has come back to haunt them in the 1-4 stretch since. In Minnesota’s four losses, the team has rushed for just 275 total yards on 91 carries.
A healthy Peterson can fix Minnesota’s most glaring problem, but not if he’s stuck in neutral like he was to start 2016. If the Vikings want to make a deep run through the postseason, they’ll need their superstar running back to look like the player who ran for nearly 1,500 yards last fall.