Is Adrian Peterson the Answer for the Arizona Cardinals?

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NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Arizona Cardinals
Dec 10, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) poses for a photo with Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) following the game at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Vikings 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Adrian Peterson gets traded to Arizona

In a surprise move the Arizona Cardinals struck a deal with the New Orleans Saints for running back Adrian Peterson. The deal was first reported by ESPN with the only details being the Saints received a conditional late-round pick. It is not known if the pick is for the 2018 or 2019 draft. The Cardinals are getting the veteran running back at a time when the offense has come under fire for a lack of running game. What can we expect from Peterson in Arizona? How does this influence the season for the Cardinals? Here are the major takeaways from the surprise trade.


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Immediate Upgrade

The Cardinals have gotten an immediate upgrade at the running back position. Peterson is currently the most talented person in the running back room and has the most experience. The longtime Vikings runner suffered a season ending injury early in the 2016 season. However, in 2015, Peterson averaged 4.5 yards per carry and finished with 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Peterson has been successful with his blend of speed and power. The only other active running back with the Cardinals who has anything close to Peterson’s success is Chris Johnson. However, where Johnson was primarily a speed guy, Peterson still has the size and power to offer an upgrade.

Peterson has only rushed the ball 27 times this season for 81 yards, averaging three yards per carry. Those numbers put Peterson second on the team in total rushing and second in average per carry. Expect Peterson to get the bulk of the carries on first and second down with Andre Ellington coming in on obvious passing downs. Peterson wanted out of New Orleans due to lack of playing time. He gets his wish and is now the likely starter for the Cardinals moving forward.

Game Plan Change Coming

Adrian Peterson is not a dual threat running back. He is not a straight replacement for David Johnson. Peterson is there to pick up yards on the ground on a consistent basis and will offer very little in the passing game other than the occasional screen or swing pass on second and long. That said, it would be unwise for the Cardinals to pick up Peterson without the intention to focus more on running the football. Prior to the trade there was a line of thinking where the run game would make way for the increase of short passes out of the backfield and over the middle as a supplement to take pressure off the offensive line and Carson Palmer. Peterson’s arrival likely signals more of a power running approach out of three receiver sets with a single tight end in the place of a full back. This approach would still allow the Cardinals offense to threaten the defense with speed slot receivers while providing the power advantage against a likely nickel defensive alignment.

Peterson will also offer some assistance in short yardage and goal-line situations. The Cardinals have struggled this season in the red zone as the space gets tighter in the passing game and yards are harder to come by. His presence should bring up the linebackers and allow for an effective play action attack in short yardage for either deep shots or an open tight end in the flat for a first down.

Will It Work?

The Cardinals decision to trade a late-round pick for Peterson is low-risk and high-reward. It has been reported that it is a conditional pick likely based on appearances and production. The pick gets better if Peterson plays well. That is a good trade off for the Cardinals in the short term. Peterson isn’t a long term move as he likely has just a season or two left before retirement, however, he is a definite upgrade and has the desire to prove he is still worthy of playing in the NFL.

The running game has been abysmal this season with much of the issue coming from the offensive line. The lack of real running talent in the backfield hasn’t helped. If Peterson is anywhere close to his 2015 form, those holes will be hidden behind a talented runner who can bring back the missing dimension to the Cardinals offense. Peterson will not suddenly make the Cardinals a playoff contender, there are too many other issues that are preventing that, but the Cardinals will at least be a better team for the move. How much better will become more clear as the season progresses.

*all stats courtesy of NFL.com

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