Adrian Peterson wasn’t kidding. Nor were the Lions. The veteran running back said he came here to play, and the team said it planned to use him a lot.
Through three games, Peterson leads Detroit in carries (43), yards (209) and yards per attempt (4.9) – all by a longshot. In a backfield that figured to be headlined by a pair of young bucks in Kerryon Johnson and D’Andre Swift, it’s the old bull leading the way.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Darrell Bevell rode Peterson hard during his time as offensive coordinator of the Vikings. When they overlapped in Minnesota from 2007-10, Peterson had the most carries in the NFL – and naturally the most yards. Reunited in Detroit, they’re picking up where they left off.
Still, a lot has changed in the years since. Peterson is 35 now. He’s endured multiple knee injuries. He's supposed to be slowing down. He entered this season with more than 3,000 carries to his name, and now he’s on pace for well over 200 more.
Is this sustainable?
“I told you, this guy is a freak of nature now,” Bevell said Tuesday. “I don’t know where that wall is or when he’s going to hit it. The guy is always asking for more. He is in great shape, he takes care of his body. He does all those little things to set himself up for that success.
“I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but he wants it. We want him to have it. We’ll keep continuing to go there. Spell him with Kerryon, spell him with Swift, and we’ll go from there.”
Peterson took the ball 22 times – for 75 yards – in the Lions’ Week 3 win over the Cardinals. Johnson got it three times. Swift didn’t get it at all. The latter two combined for 26 offensive snaps. Peterson logged 40 on his own.
“We felt like we wanted to get Adrian going early, a little bit earlier in the game,” Bevell said. “But I’ll tell you what, all those guys, I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciate what they’re doing. We’re asking them to do different things. We’re changing their roles a little bit.”
This is particularly true in regard to Johnson, Detroit’s second-round pick in 2018 and, at one time, its running back of the future. He’s averaging just six carries per game. And he’s seen just two targets in the passing game, replaced in this capacity by Swift.
When he’s on the field, Johnson has mostly been picking up blocks for Matthew Stafford. To his credit, he’s done a good job of it. Bevell called him the ‘player of the game’ against Arizona.
“He was phenomenal in his protection pickups, in all the little detail nuances that we needed, particularly on Jesse (James’) touchdown. He was a huge part of that play,” Bevell said.
As for Swift, the Lions will continue to make him a weapon through the air. This is what they envisioned when they drafted him early in the second round, at least for this season. They never envisioned giving a 35-year-old the bulk of the work on the ground. The man only got here a week before the first game.
But this man is different from the rest, a freak of nature still proving nature wrong.