Adrian Peterson Finds Fit in Arizona; It’s Brett Hundley’s Turn in Green Bay.
1. Cardinals give Adrian Peterson a home. It’s fair to question the sustainability of what Peterson did in his Arizona debut. After all, he went for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, after picking up just 81 yards on 27 carries in his four previous games as a Saint. And he’s 32 and closing in on 2,500 career carries. But it’s important to remember the situations in New Orleans and Arizona are different.
At the end of his time in Minnesota, Peterson’s limitations in the passing game were noticeable to the point where the coaches felt like they could open up the offense when he went down last season. When he was in his prime, he was so great at what he could do—running downhill like few ever have—that it didn’t matter. Eventually it would, and that came last year. And those limitations mattered in New Orleans, where Sean Payton treasures versatility in all his skill players, all the same. But even if the fit wasn’t perfect, I won’t soon forget how his Saints teammates talked about his physical ability last spring. “You watch him and you’re like, Wow, I don’t see how anybody tackles that guy,” is how Drew Brees explained it. The Vikings people echoed that, even as Peterson walked out the door over last winter, and so maybe all he really did need was fit.
So how do the Cardinals give him that? Well, the offense was built to feature a big, downhill back in David Johnson, and with Johnson out of the equation (for now) with a dislocated wrist, swapping in Peterson actually made plenty of sense. “He’s a downhill, physical runner,” said one Arizona staffer of Peterson. “A one-cut, get-north type guy who can break tackles. And most of our big plays in the passing game are schemed off play-action, so he fits well.” In short, the hope is that Peterson can be the ideal bridge to Johnson, allowing the Cardinals to play as they were built, with the run game helping a work-in-progress offensive line and 37-year-old quarterback Carson Palmer. So we’ll see if this all keeps working like it did on Sunday. At the very least, there’s a better shot of it happening for Peterson than he ever had in New Orleans.
2. Green Bay’s new gunslinger. The Packers’ new starter, Brett Hundley, didn’t necessarily fall in the 2015 draft. Yes, there was hype around the then-UCLA star during the 2014 college season, and talk of him being a high pick. But the truth was that was all it really was—talk.
“Yeah, the media hypes guys up, and then the scouts evaluate them,” said one AFC college scouting director. “His decision-making was an issue, as was his accuracy at times. He’s big, strong and athletic with arm strength, he’s just inconsistent in those two areas.” Another evaluator compared him in talent, and rawness coming out, to Browns rookie DeShone Kizer.
All of this is to say that the man who will replace Aaron Rodgers, out indefinitely with a broken right collarbone, does have some potential. Beyond that, we just don’t have a ton of answers yet on where he is as a player after spending two-plus seasons developing behind Rodgers and under Mike McCarthy and Co. What we do know is that Hundley seized the No. 2 job last year, and was good enough this year to where the Packers felt comfortable going into the year with just two quarterbacks on the active roster. (Joe Callahan wound up on the practice squad.) And from what I can tell, there’s confidence in Hundley now. One Green Bay staffer said Wednesday, “He’ll be fine. He’s an extremely hard worker, he knows the offense, He’s a good leader and the players like him. They’ll play hard for him and believe in him.”
At quarterback, there’s an element of the unknown that can’t be erased until you see the player in honest-to-god game action. Hundley will get that Sunday, and we’ll learn more over the next few weeks. Remember, the Packers have been masters at developing backups behind a star—Matt Hasselbeck, Aaron Brooks, Mark Brunell, Ty Detmer and Rodgers himself came up behind Brett Favre. Time will tell if we’re talking the same way about Hundley down the line.
3. Jets flying steady. No one wants to lose, but in the long run, the Jets brass (if you got them drunk on truth serum) would probably take 10 more of what they got Sunday against New England—a strong, feisty effort, and a defeat that puts them a step closer in positioning to get the long-term quarterback they need. But the Patriots game was about more than keeping it close.
As those inside the building saw it, the Jets clearly brought more energy than New England early and didn’t back down after a swoon late in the second quarter that extended into the second half. More than just that, there was more proof that the front office and coaching staff are collaborating effectively in acquiring young talent, maybe most notably in the way rookies Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye are proving to be the kind of interchangeable safeties (think of what he had in Arizona in Tyrann Mathieu and Tony Jefferson) that Todd Bowles has always looked for in that position.
Now, the roster itself is still a year or two away. They need help everywhere on offense. They need the right quarterback. But this year has represented a pretty good page-turning, given the roster detonation they went through in the spring. And as of now, they look to have $70 million in cap space and seven picks in the first five rounds of the draft.
4. True test coming for the Falcons. So isn’t it interesting that Atlanta is heading into its big return match with the defending champion Patriots, and just so happens to be coming off a loss punctuated by a big blown lead (the Falcons were up 17-0 before falling to the Dolphins last week)? Will it have a psychological effect? Obviously, that’s possible. And it doesn’t look great that the Falcons blew a lead against Buffalo in Week 4, or that they almost did in Detroit the week before that, before Golden Tate’s go-ahead touchdown was overturned and a 10-second runoff to follow ended the game. So we’ll see how they handle all of the ghosts here.
But based on how Dan Quinn approached the Super Bowl collapse during the offseason, and how the Falcons came flying out of the gate, I’d bet they’ll be OK. On the advice of San Antonio Spurs GM R.C. Buford, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, who all recently had been through meltdowns of their own, Quinn went right after it with his team, and addressed it on Day 1 of the offseason program. The Falcons never shied from the subject, and won three straight to start the season.
“You gotta talk about it,” Quinn told me in the spring. “You have to talk about what happened, why it happened, and take ownership for it. … What I did learn from them, you go back and you battle again, and when you have a really tight team that helps. That’s the case in San Antonio. That’s the case in Golden State. And that’s the case in Cleveland. The players are so connected, there’s not a lot of ‘I’m the reason’ or ‘You’re the reason.’ It helps a lot. That’s the common thread between San Antonio, Golden State and why they’re playing so well now, and why I bet Cleveland plays well again this year too. It’s not like, ‘I played well, so I’m good.’ They want to battle for one another.”
So maybe the Falcons lose on Sunday at Gillette. I just don’t think it’ll be because blowing that lead to Miami winds up beating them twice.