Running back Peterson makes instant impact with Cardinals

Oct 17, 2017, 8:23 AM
Arizona Cardinals running back Adrian Peterson (23) eludes Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon H...

Arizona Cardinals running back Adrian Peterson (23) eludes Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (28) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

(AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

TEMPE, Ariz. — One game in, and trading for running back Adrian Peterson is already paying dividends for the Arizona Cardinals.

In his Cardinals debut, Peterson rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, as Arizona defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38-33 on Sunday. The difference between this Cardinals team and the one that lost 34-7 to the Philadelphia Eagles last week was dramatic.

It was probably the best first half of team football they played in a long time, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Monday, and Peterson was a huge reason why.

“It’s easy,” Arians said. “(Before) we were getting zero to one and two (yards), and these were three, fours and fives when they weren’t blocked very well.”

Initially, some NFL analysts and reporters questioned whether Peterson still had gas left in the tank after he was traded from the New Orleans Saints for a conditional 2018 sixth-round draft pick. On Sunday, the All-Pro running back proved doubters wrong.

“He’s in fantastic shape,” Arians said. “It’s not like he was off. He was playing, practicing and running through training camp, and he’s always in great condition, so yeah, I think that’s easy for him.”

Arizona’s rushing attack as a whole benefited from the acquisition of Peterson. Through Arizona’s first five games, the Cardinals had just one rushing touchdown, had not run for more than 83 yards in a game and had rushed for fewer than 50 yards three times. The Cardinals averaged 2.6 yards per rush attempt during that span and averaged over three yards per carry only once.

In one game with Peterson, the Cardinals rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns on 35 attempts, averaging 4.6 yards per carry in their win against the Buccaneers.

Arians said the plan all along was to give Peterson a significant amount of carries, despite only being with the team for a short amount of time.

“When you start, that’s what your job is,” Arians said. “That’s what (Peterson) wanted and I wasn’t going to tell him ‘no.’ It wasn’t like he wasn’t in great shape. He learned quickly, he put a lot of time with (running backs coach) Freddie (Kitchens) and Freddie did a great job getting him ready.”

The future Hall of Fame running back had more yards in his first eight carries on Sunday, which were 84, than the Cardinals had in any game this season. It wasn’t as if Peterson was doing this against a terrible run defense, either. The Buccaneers entered the game ranked eighth in the NFL in run defense, allowing an average of just 87.3 yards per game.

Peterson’s presence not only helped establish a strong running game, but it helped the passing game and the offense, as a whole, particularly the team’s red zone offense.

“Larry (Fitzgerald’s) touchdown was a gimme,” Arians said. “All 11 guys came forward, and when you run it, you get easy touchdowns, especially in the red zone. We were four for five for the first time this year because we ran the ball better down there. And the only time we got stopped, we fumbled the snap on the one. It was a walk-in touchdown.”

There was a sense of hope and excitement, Arians said, with Peterson joining the Cardinals. It was just a matter of time, and Peterson playing with a chip on his shoulder helps, too.

“I think there was a lot of hope until that first run and then that touchdown run,” Arians said. “I haven’t seen this team run to the locker room at halftime with that much spring in their step in a long time. I wish we would’ve came out (with) a little bit more spring, or finished it, but yeah, it brought a lot of energy. And he had to prove it too, and he did.”

Although having an Adrian Peterson and David Johnson tandem in the backfield could be great for the Cardinals organization and their fans, Arians said, he is not thinking about that for one simple reason.

“I don’t even want to think about that because then it won’t happen,” Arians said with a smile on his face.

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