By Mike Bires
The most compelling story in the National Football League this season is Brett Favre playing quarterback for Minnesota. But the true star for the unbeaten Vikings is a phenom running back who’s called “Purple Jesus.”
That would be Adrian Peterson, who’s rushed for more yards and more touchdowns than any other back since he entered the league in 2007.
“This guy is arguably the best football player in the world right now,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
The Steelers (4-2) are four-point favorites over the Vikings (6-0). But they know that if Peterson runs wild, winning won’t be easy.
“He hits the holes with speed,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said of Peterson. “Once he sees it, he hits it. It doesn’t take him long to get it started. He’s got great footwork. He’s powerful. He’s just a combination of everything. It’s hard to tackle a guy like that.”
As a rookie, Peterson ranked second in the league with 1,341 rushing yards. In a game against San Diego, he set an NFL record with 296 yards.
Last year, Peterson led the league with 1,760 yards.
This year, he’s rushed for a league-high 624.
Twice this year, the Vikings have beaten AFC North Division teams. In those games, Peterson put up big numbers, 180 yards against Cleveland and 143 against Baltimore.
“It is really humbling to be honest,” Peterson said when told that Tomlin called him the best football player in the world.
“I just have the ultimate respect for him as a coach and to hear him say something like that, it makes me feel good.”
The Steelers haven’t allowed an opposing running back to rush for 100 yards or more in their last 24 regular-season games.
So far this season, the Steelers rank second in the league in run defense and are allowing only 74.5 yards per game. But by himself, Peterson averages 104.0 ypg.
WARD PUTTING UP BIG NUMBERS AT AGE 33
Wide receiver Hines Ward, who holds virtually every Steelers’ receiving record, is off to one of the best starts of his 12-career. At the age of 33, he leads the NFL with 599 receiving yards. He’s also tied for first (along with Steve Smith of the New York Giants) with 41 catches.
So quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who leads the NFL with 1,887 passing yards, isn’t he only Steeler racking up prolific statistics.
In their first 76 years of existence, the Steelers have never had a quarterback who led the league in passing yards.
Likewise, they’ve never had a wide receiver lead the in receptions or receiving yards.
If Roethlisberger keeps up his current pace, he’ll throw for over 5,000 yards, which would shatter the Steelers single-season record of 3,724 set by Bradshaw in 1978.
If Ward keeps up his pace, he’ll finish with 109 catches and 1,597 receiving yards. Ward holds the franchise record with 112 catches in a season. Yancey Thigpen holds the team record for receiving yards with 1,398 in 1997.
As it stands right now, Ward ranks 16th on the NFL’s all-time receptions list with 841.
HOOD STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS
What does rookie defensive end Ziggy Hood have to show for the five-year, $11.3 million contract he signed in late July that included a $6 million signing bonus and a base salary of $1.1 million this season?
Well, not only has the Steelers’ first-round pick in this year’s draft failed to start a game this season. He has yet to even make a tackle.
After left D-end Aaron Smith suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Detroit, Hood expected his playing time to increase.
Tomlin said the workload would be shared by Travis Kirschke, who started last Sunday against the Browns, Nick Eason and Hood.
But as it turned out, Hood played less against the Browns than he did against the Lions when he got 16 snaps. Hood was on the field for only seven defensive snaps against Cleveland.
NATIONAL MEDIA FLOCKING TO PITTSBURGH
With Brett Favre and the unbeaten Vikings coming to town Sunday, the Steelers communications department says it’s being bombarded with credential requests from national media types.
“You would think it’s a playoff game,” a team spokesman said.
The Vikings/Steelers game is one of the most attractive, if not the most attractive, game of the NFL’s Week 7 schedule.