Commentary

Observation deck: Peterson in the midst of unprecedented rookie season

By setting the single-game rushing record in only his eighth start, the Vikings' Adrian Peterson proved that he's already the league's most exciting player, writes Jeffri Chadiha.

Originally Published: November 4, 2007
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

Believe it or not, there were football games played in places outside of Indianapolis this past weekend. One was played in Minneapolis, and it featured a rookie running back who has become the most exciting player in the league in just nine weeks of action.

That isn't hyperbole, either. Adrian Peterson is a man who is playing on an entirely different level than the rest of the runners in the NFL these days.

It seemed like Peterson couldn't impress us any further this season after gaining 224 yards against Chicago in Week 6. But after setting the single-game rushing record of 296 yards in a 35-17 win over San Diego, he's left us wondering what he'll do for his next act.

We now have to assume that Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards is on shaky ground. A run at 2,000 yards wouldn't be hard to believe, either. Simply put, Peterson -- who already has 1,036 yards and eight touchdowns in eight games -- is capable of producing the most amazing rookie season that any player has ever enjoyed in this league, regardless of position.

The dude is so good that there is little else that can be said about him right now. So I'll get into 10 other observations I had after Sunday's games were finished:

1. Tight-knit unit

The revival of Packers quarterback Brett Favre might be the big story in Green Bay, but there's another reason this team is 7-1: It has amazing chemistry on defense.

Packers middle linebacker Nick Barnett says he hasn't been around a defense with this much camaraderie since he entered the NFL in 2003.

"I'd have to go back to my senior year at Oregon State to find a bunch of guys who have this much fun together," Barnett said. "You can see that we have a lot of faith in each other."

That certainly was clear in the Packers' 33-22 win over Kansas City. Although the Chiefs became the first opponent to score 20 points against Green Bay this season, they managed only 234 yards of total offense and committed two turnovers. The most critical miscue came late in the fourth quarter, when Packers cornerback Charles Woodson intercepted a Damon Huard pass and sealed the win with a 46-yard touchdown return. If Green Bay keeps coming up with plays like that, it might end up being the top seed when the NFC playoffs begin.

2. D-line dominance in Tennessee

If you want to know how good the Titans' defensive line is, just check the stat line from Tennessee's 20-7 win over Carolina. Tennessee sacked Carolina quarterback David Carr seven times, with six of those coming from the front four.

Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was the star --- he picked up three sacks before an injury sidelined him in the fourth quarter -- while three other Titans (tackle Tony Brown and ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Travis LaBoy) each added one sack. Outside linebacker David Thornton was the only other defender to take down Carr on Sunday.

Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said that improved defensive line is a major reason why Tennessee has a top-five defense again. The Titans lost Haynesworth to a five-game suspension last season, and injuries also impacted the rotation. Now they have an assortment of linemen who are constantly fresh, and it's making a difference.

"We've been real aggressive up front," Vanden Bosch said. "We haven't had to blitz that much to create pressure, and we're really getting after people. We've just been attacking the line of scrimmage, and it's made an impact."

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesBehind the accurate passing of QB Drew Brees, the Saints have reversed their fortunes.

3. Surprising Saints

New Orleans deserves a ton of credit. The Saints could have bottomed out after starting the season with four straight losses. Instead, they now have reeled off four straight victories -- including Sunday's 41-24 win over Jacksonville -- and they are looking like a legitimate contender in the mediocre NFC South. This is one turnaround that was impossible to see coming a month ago.

Of course, it's not hard to find the person most responsible for this change of fortune: That would be quarterback Drew Brees. He has completed 71.5 percent of his attempts over the Saints' past four games, while throwing 11 touchdowns and one interception. (He had 445 passing yards and three touchdowns against Jacksonville.)

Just as impressive is the protection he has received from his offensive line, as New Orleans has allowed just one sack in its past five games. Don't look now, but the Saints are primed for a strong second-half run.

4. Somebody call a Priest

We might soon see just how ready Kansas City running back Priest Holmes is for the rigors of the NFL. The Chiefs lost Larry Johnson to an ankle injury in their loss to Green Bay. The setback was serious enough that he was carted off the field, and that means the spotlight now falls directly on Holmes.

This is interesting because Holmes, who returned this season after missing nearly two years with a severe neck injury, had made it clear that he liked a limited role that required him to handle the ball 10 to 12 times a game as Johnson's backup. But if Johnson's ankle is damaged enough to sideline him, Holmes probably will have to prove he can handle twice that workload in a key AFC West matchup with Denver in Week 10. He likely will have a rough day if that scenario plays out.

5. Tough times for Andy Reid

Don't fall into the trap of believing that the Philadelphia Eagles' blowout loss to Dallas brought any more heartache into the life of their head coach. Reid already has endured enough devastating blows over the last few days -- mainly watching his oldest sons, Garrett and Britt, get sentenced to 23 months in jail on drug- and gun-related chargers and hearing a local judge refer to his home as "a drug emporium." It's impossible to think one defeat in a disappointing season could offer more pain than that. The bottom line here is that Reid is doing what anybody would do in this situation: He's trying to get on with his life as best as he possibly can.

That's why all these questions about whether he'll consider stepping down don't make any sense. From all indications, he's been trying to help two adult-aged sons cope with their lives. It's not like he's dealing with adolescents here. Garrett Reid is 24 and Britt is 22. At some point, they have to take responsibility for their own lives, even if they are still living in their parents' home. Reid can help them once they're released from jail, but until then all he can do is focus his energy on the remainder of his family and worry about his job.

6. What's happened to that improved Raiders defense?

It's looking like the Raiders' defense, the same bunch that ranked third in the NFL last season, was one of the more overrated units heading into this year. After Houston's Ron Dayne ran for 122 yards in a 24-17 win, the Raiders now have allowed a 100-yard rusher six times this year. And remember, Dayne wasn't even the starter in Sunday's game. He replaced Ahman Green after Green left the contest with an injury.

Here's what you really need to know about the Raiders' defense: It wasn't that good last season. One team source said the Raiders didn't give up that many yards last season because most of their opponents resorted to conservative play-calling in the second half of games that already had been decided. Those situations helped inflate the Raiders' impressive statistics in yards allowed. Now we know the truth.

7. Star in the making

Second-year San Diego cornerback Antonio Cromartie is going to be a big-time player for a long time. He scored twice in the Chargers' win over Houston in Week 8 -- once while recovering a fumble in the end zone and another time on a 70-yard interception return -- and this week he put himself in the record books.

Cromartie's 109-yard touchdown return of a missed field goal attempt in the Chargers' loss to Minnesota would have been the play of the game if not for the presence of a certain rookie running back on the other side. But it's likely that he has a few more of those electric moments left in him.

Remember, this a 6-foot-2, 203-pound defensive back with so much raw athleticism that the Chargers made him the 19th overall selection in last year's draft despite the fact that he missed all of his final season at Florida State with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (Cromartie left school after his junior season). The Chargers clearly sensed that he would be something special once his knee recovered. Now it's safe to say that general manager A.J. Smith knew what he was doing on this one.

8. Portis powers Redskins

It's good to see Washington running back Clinton Portis finally surpassed the 100-yard mark this season. In gaining 196 yards on 36 carries in his team's 23-20 overtime win over the Jets, Portis proved he still has the ability to carry a team when necessary.

His recent health problems  he was nagged by a sore knee earlier this season after missing eight games last season with injuries to his neck, ankle, shoulder and hand -- suggested he was yet another back who was starting to wear out. On Sunday, he ran with such determination that it seemed crazy to even think such a thing.

9. Where did the Bills come from?

It's easy to forget about the Bills -- primarily because they play in the same division as New England -- but they're now 4-4 after an impressive 33-21 win over Cincinnati. They've won four of their past five games, and they've played well ever since losing a heartbreaking Monday night game to Dallas on Oct. 8.

Much of the credit for this success goes to coach Dick Jauron. He has managed to keep a young team focused despite a major tragedy (the neck injury sustained by Kevin Everett) and a quarterback controversy (Trent Edwards and J.P. Losman).

The Bills don't have the talent or the experience to be even thinking about a playoff spot yet, but they certainly are in the running at the midway point of this season.

10. Kitna's prophecy

Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna predicted the Lions would win 10 games, and most people laughed at him after that offseason guarantee. So far, he hasn't given us too many reasons to think Detroit, now 6-2, won't surpass that expectation.

The Lions look even better these days because running back Kevin Jones is getting more involved in the offense -- he had 17 carries for 71 yards in the win over Denver -- and his presence gives Detroit a reliable running threat to complement its passing game. Even with beleaguered president Matt Millen still overseeing this team, it's fair to say the Lions actually are dangerous.

Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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