Vikings’ Adrian Peterson is close to his 2012 pace, with a catch

petersonAdrian Peterson is having another improbably breathtaking season, leading the NFL in rushing at age 30. At a time when running backs are supposed to be hitting a wall, he keeps running through people. And a guy I thought the Vikings would dump this past season as much for his mileage as his baggage continues to prove so many of us wrong.

The last time he had a true “prove it” season, of course, it was much the same thing. In 2012, coming off a gruesome knee injury, Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards, willed the Vikings into the playoffs and won the league MVP award. What’s interesting is that Peterson isn’t too far off his 2012 pace this season. But before we start wondering if he could outdo himself — and get those nine extra yards to run past Eric Dickerson for the single-season rushing record — let’s take a closer look at his current pace and what transpired in 2012:

*Through 11 games in 2012, Peterson had rushed 213 times for 1,236 yards. That’s a per game average of 112 yards and a per carry average of 5.8 yards. This year, he’s rushed 237 times for 1,164 yards. That’s a per-game average of 106 yards and a per carry average of 4.9 yards. So he hasn’t been as explosive. And he’s still a little bit behind his 2012 pace. But yes, he’s certainly within striking distance. However …

*In 2012, over his final five regular season games, Peterson rushed for a total of 861 yards. That’s a per-game average of 172, which is astonishing. To finish with 2,097 yards this season, as he did in 2012, Peterson would need to average 186.6 yards per game over his final five. To put that into perspective, Peterson only has eight games in his entire career in which he has rushed for at least 186 yards. Three of them came in the final five games of the 2012 season.

So yes, Peterson is within shouting distance of his 2012 pace through 11 games. But his final five games that season were at a pace basically consistent with his all-time greatest individual games.

Then again: I’m officially done doubting what Peterson is capable of on the football field, so you never know. Just as he did in 2012, he seems to be getting better as this 2015 season goes along.

Firing Limegrover makes it clear: This is Tracy Claeys’ team

claeysAfter Jerry Kill retired for health reasons on Oct. 28, this sentiment lingered in the air: Tracy Claeys was taking over as head coach, but really he was just occupying the seat in the program Kill was trying to build. That dissipated a little when Claeys was made the permanent head coach a couple weeks ago, but it still felt like there wasn’t much Claeys could do to shake the perception — if he wanted to shake the perception — that this was still Kill’s team and not his.

Limited in his options, Claeys on Sunday took the boldest and surest route to carving out his own identity. In a move that he had previously hinted at but still felt almost Shakespearean in nature, Claeys fired offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover and quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski.

There was a definite texture to Kill’s method, and aside from the philosophies of building around defense and a running game, continuity was the thing that was always trumpeted. Claeys and Limegrover had been together on Kill’s staff since 1999, following him from job to job. You couldn’t mention one without mentioning the other, which is exceedingly rare for coordinators because in the reality of tunnel vision coaching, the paths of the offense and defense on the same team rarely cross each other.

Had Claeys retained Limegrover, excusing this season as a one-year blip in what had otherwise been gradual offensive improvement with the Gophers, the two would still be intertwined and seen by many as near-equals. Claeys had the defense. Limegrover had the offense. On game day, Claeys wore the headset and did the head coach things, but outside of those three hours what was different than it had been for almost all of 1999-Oct. 28, 2015?

Claeys explained the rationale Monday as wanting a new coordinator who will be the sole play caller — a duty previously shared in a collaboration between the two fired coaches. That’s fine. It’s a good explanation. But he also could have told Limegrover: “You’re calling the plays now. Just you. This is what I want.”

Instead, he got rid of the guy who was his equal for 16 years. He might not have done it for power, but this was a power move. Claeys made it very clear in one of the only ways available to him that this is his team, not Kill’s.

Don’t fight it: This is what the Vikings are, and it’s working

Mike Zimmer’s Vikings have proven to be a lot of things already this season, but many of us are still waiting for them to become something that they are not.

This is not a dynamic offense. This is not a team that should be taking a ton of risks. This is not a team built to blow you out.

Zimmer’s team is unflinchingly solid, a style that can be both maddening and beautiful to watch. If you’re still waiting for them to race out to a big lead and bury a team, you might be waiting a while. This is a steady application of gas; this is not a zero-to-60 sports car. This machine feeds off of all the moving parts. The ball control offense keeps the defense rested. The rested defense keeps making plays. The special teams usually supplement both facets.

Plenty of us looked at specific moments of Sunday’s most recent textbook Zimmer road victory, a 20-10 asphyxiation of Atlanta, and still wanted more. Why run Matt Asiata on 3rd-and-5 deep in Falcons territory when a touchdown might have given the Vikings more breathing room in a quicker fashion? I suspect because as much as some of us have a disdain for field goals, Zimmer looked at the chance to make it 10-3, looked at how well his defense was playing, thought a little about the interception Teddy Bridgewater had already thrown in a similar spot Sunday and saw value in making sure the Vikings got some points.

Some of us looked at Bridgewater’s raw numbers (174 yards on 28 attempts) and wondered why not throw more after having early success and certainly why not throw the ball down the field more. Mike Wallace, the NFL’s most expensive decoy, didn’t catch a pass again and has just two grabs in his past five games. But still, the logic is solid: Adrian Peterson was magnificent on Sunday. This is a running team. The offensive line is miles ahead as a run blocking unit of where it is as a pass blocking unit. So the Vikings are playing to their strengths, even if it sometimes looks boring.

The Vikings might need to do more than this — even if it’s just a little more — to beat the likes of Arizona, Green Bay and maybe Seattle down the stretch. Then again, we keep saying that and the Vikings keep winning. Even after last week’s disappointment against Green Bay, they’re 8-3 and right back atop the NFC North thanks to the Packers’ Thanksgiving meltdown and Sunday’s businesslike effort.

At this point, I’m inclined to say the Vikings’ methods are sound. Don’t fight it. This is what they are, and it’s working.

Must-read: a portrait of Kevin Garnett, the zealous mentor

kgtownsJackie MacMullan, a gifted basketball writer who watched Kevin Garnett play in Boston and is now with ESPN, has written a very good piece about the notion of KG as a mentor.

She goes into great detail over many of his past mentees, noting that Garnett can be — to put it mildly — a demanding teacher.

The crux of the story:

So it is that Minnesota’s decision to entrust No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns to the tutelage of Kevin Garnett is, to put it mildly, a compelling and sizable gamble. … Former teammate Chauncey Billups maintains that Garnett is the most unselfish superstar of his era and the most dynamic leader he has seen. Then again, if Towns is devoured by KG’s fire, he wouldn’t be the first. A partial list of ex-teammates who have endured the wrath of the Big Ticket includes Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Mason Plumlee, Ray Allen, Wally Szczerbiak, Rajon Rondo, Rasho Nesterovic, Patrick O’Bryant and Deron Williams. Some have survived to be welcomed into Garnett’s inner circle; others are forever dead to him. “If you don’t meet his expectations,” says Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, “he has no use for you.”

She builds compelling evidence, much of it to be digested in the eye of the beholder. What is good leadership? What does a good mentor do? Your answers to those questions will likely frame how you view Garnett.

Ex-Viking Christian Ponder to work out for Broncos

bridgewaterFour years ago, Christian Ponder was the No. 12 overall pick in the NFL draft by the Vikings. That same year, he became the team’s starter as a rookie.

Three years ago, he started all 16 regular-season games for a Vikings squad that made the playoffs.

Two years ago, he started just nine games as things fell apart for Ponder as he and the Vikings were exposed.

Last year, the Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater — signaling the end of the Ponder era. Ponder started just one game, in an emergency capacity, a 42-10 drubbing at Green Bay.

And now this year, he signed with the Raiders but was cut before the start of the season. His role now? The guy waiting by the phone for teams to call if they run into a QB shortage during the year. Already he’s reportedly had workouts set with the Cowboys and Titans. Neither team nabbed him.

Now? The Broncos, with Peyton Manning ailing, are reportedly set to put Ponder through a workout on Wednesday. Brock Osweiler, a 2012 second-round pick, started and played well last week. But the only other healthy QB on the Broncos’ roster is 2015 7th-round pick Trevor Siemian.

If Ponder is added for depth onto the Broncos roster and Osweiler winds up injured, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario by which Ponder would jump into the starter’s role as long as Manning was still hurt. It would be quite an upward leap for a QB who has really had nothing but a downward fall over the past few seasons.

Report: Big Ten, led by Lucia, wants age restrictions in college hockey

luciaCollege Hockey News has an interesting and wide-ranging piece today about a proposed rule the NCAA is poised to vote on soon that would decrease by one year the age limit for incoming recruits in college hockey. Currently, that age limit is 21; the new rule would drop that down to 20. Players could still come in at age 21, but they would lose a year of eligibility and have just three years remaining.

What’s particularly interesting is that the article frames this as a power play of sorts by the Big Ten, which typically recruits younger players. Per the story:

Because the Big Ten is the only member of the hockey community that is an “all-sports conference,” it has the power to propose legislation directly to the NCAA. This was done during the summer at the request of its six coaches, first proposed by Minnesota’s Don Lucia, without the knowledge of the other conferences.

And other coaches in other conferences aren’t happy. College Hockey News quotes plenty of them and also obtained a poll that shows 49 of 60 college hockey coaches are not in favor of the proposed legislation. Again, per the story:

The criticism has come on two levels: 1. That the legislation will only give Big Ten schools more advantages than it already has, while hurting those schools that rely upon older players for competitive balance; and 2. That the legislation was not discussed among the larger college hockey community before being introduced to the NCAA.

The story quotes a Big Ten official worried about 17-year-olds potentially playing against 24- and 25-year-olds. To that, though, there is this: nobody is forcing Big Ten schools to recruit younger players (though it is true that admissions standards at Big Ten schools might be more strict than at other schools).

Interestingly, the Gophers have three 18-year-old freshmen on this year’s team, including one (Brent Gates Jr.) who just turned 18 in August. But they also have a freshman goalie (Brock Kautz) who turned 21 in June.

The article also speculates that this proposal gained steam when the Gophers lost to an older Union team in the championship game two seasons ago.

In any event, it’s worth a read. Few demographics get worked up quite like hockey coaches, so it’s pretty entertaining.

Bryan Trottier reflects on career, growing up, ’91 Cup vs. North Stars

trottierDerek Jeter’s web site “The Players’ Tribune” can be a little hit-or-miss, but: 1) overall I’ve been impressed with both the quality and the approach taken by athletes writing for it and 2) I read something there on Monday that is one of my favorite sports pieces that I’ve read all year. Seriously.

I don’t know what I expected when I stumbled upon former NHL player Bryan Trottier’s “Letter to My Younger Self,” but what I ended up getting was something that approaches perfection. His reflection on life growing up in Saskatchewan, using the device of writing to a 10-year-old version of himself 50 years in the past, is honest, funny, touching and so much more.

Two passages I particularly enjoyed:

When you tell people how you learned to skate later in life, they’ll think you’re messing with them. They’re not going to believe how your handyman father would clear off the frozen creek across from your house after a snowstorm. You know how he walks out there at twilight with a big machete and floods the creek by chopping up a beaver dam? That’s not a normal thing. Other kids’ dads have Zambonis, or at least a hose. Your dad has a machete and some Canadian know-how.

And this, talking about his infamous rant against Brian Bellows of the North Stars in the 1991 Stanley Cup Finals:

By the mid-2000s, something called YouTube will exist, which will allow pretty much all of recorded human history to be watched by anyone, at any time.

By the late-2000s, this clip will have circulated quite a bit. You’ll go into an elementary school in Minnesota to talk to the kids, and a third grader will yell out, in his little voice …

“Hey Bellows! You’re a superstar, Bellows!”

And you’ll shoot the teacher a nervous glance, praying this kid doesn’t finish your now-semi-famous rant.

So remember, kid: there’s always a mic somewhere. Be careful.

I implore you to read the whole thing. I just reread it for the third time. It’s that good.

Twins pitcher Trevor May wants to give you his pants

Whether he was a starter or coming out of the bullpen, one thing remained constant with Twins pitcher Trevor May last season: he was an unabashed Zubaz enthusiast.

He starred in the Twins’ “Zubazpalooza” promotional video in advance of the Oct. 2 giveaway against the Royals (sadly, I missed this one, though I got my pair in 2014 and still rock them unironically). More than just that, though, May is all about that Zubaz life.

And he wants to make you a part of it. May tweeted out Monday that he is coming up with a promotion to give away the Zubaz pants he wore in the promotional video.

This is pretty exciting stuff. So like May says, stay tuned.

The disappearance of Mike Wallace in Vikings offense is stunning

mikewallaceVikings wide receiver Mike Wallace, considered a key acquisition this offseason, didn’t exactly start 2015 lighting the world on fire. That said, his first six games offered at least reasonable production: 26 receptions (on 38 targets) for 292 yards.

It’s not No. 1 wideout production — and Wallace is certainly being paid like a No. 1 WR — but it was acceptable. Projected over a full 16-game season, Wallace’s first six games had him on pace for 69 catches for close to 800 yards. Again, not great but still useful on a team that doesn’t throw the ball a ton.

However, Wallace’s last four games have seen a dramatic drop from even that modest six-game pace. In that span — three of them Vikings victories, at least — Wallace has just two catches for a total of 26 yards. It’s not as though Teddy Bridgewater hasn’t looked Wallace’s way at all, since he does have 14 targets in that span. But yes, just two catches. Two. He didn’t catch any passes Sunday in the loss to Green Bay.

Some of this coincides with the rise of Stefon Diggs, who clearly has a good thing going with Bridgewater as well as a knack for getting open. But still, Wallace’s best game of the year (eight catches at Denver) was Diggs’ breakout game. Wallace had 12 catches in the first three games when Diggs didn’t play, and 14 in the first three games Diggs did play.

Some of it comes from Wallace and Bridgewater being unable to connect on any deep passes. They tried again Sunday, with Teddy overshooting Wallace by about a yard after the WR had a step deep. Wallace’s longest reception this season is a paltry 22 yards. Diggs has 12 catches for 20 yards or more this year; nobody else on the Vikings has more than three.

And some of the recent woes come from dropped passes. Wallace dropped what would have been a first down conversion early in the Vikings/Packers game Sunday, leading eventually to a punt. He’s only been charged with three dropped passes this season, but it feels like they have been recent and costly.

The sum total is a receiver who has practically disappeared from the Vikings offense in recent weeks.

Vikings vs. Packers: Maybe we should have seen this coming?

We all should have seen this coming, but not for the typical Minnesota reason of everything going wrong the moment you start believing.

No, we should have seen the Vikings 30-13 blowout loss to the Packers coming because, well, the law of averages is a powerful thing.

The Packers had lost three games in a row – two excusable road losses at Denver and Carolina, then a head-scratcher at home to Detroit. The Vikings had won five in a row – many in skin-of-their-teeth fashion.

Green Bay was simply too good to keep playing the way it was. The Vikings were operating on thin margins. Both of those trends collided and reversed in a big way Sunday.

This certainly wasn’t one of those games that hinged on a handful of plays, as so many in the NFL seem to be these days (and the type of game the Vikings have thrived in this year). Green Bay was better from start to finish.

Yes, there were a couple of major events — including the pass interference on third and long late in the first half that set up the Green Bay touchdown that really turned the game on the scoreboard — but the Packers were the better team in the passing game, running game, on defense and special teams.

If the Packers are the team Mike Zimmer feels the Vikings have to prove themselves against, there’s still a lot to prove. Maybe the rematch in Lambeau in early January will be a different kind of game.