TEMPE, Ariz. — With 1,182 rushing yards and another 189 through the air, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has 1,371 total yards this season.
As a whole, the Vikings have amassed 3,790, meaning the six-time Pro Bowler accounts for 36 percent of the team’s entire yardage output. He has also scored eight rushing touchdowns for a team that has reached the end zone just 20 times, giving him 40 percent of that total, too.
Suffice to say, he’s an important part of the Vikings’ offense. He’s also good. Very, very good.
“Great back, fantastic, hard runner, powerful runner,” Cardinals safety/linebacker Deone Bucannon said when asked what comes to mind about Peterson. “Man, he speaks for himself. Definitely don’t have to put anything on that; everybody knows what to expect when you’re facing Adrian Peterson.”
What to expect is a style of running that made Peterson the seventh overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the 2007 NFL AP Offensive Rookie of the Year and a First-Team All-Pro in 2008, 2009 and 2012. That 2012 season, when he ran for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns, also saw him earn the AP MVP, PFWA MVP and AP Offensive Player of the Year awards.
The 30-year-old is not having quite that kind of season, but he is still leading the NFL in rushing and a force to be reckoned with.
“Oh yeah,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said when asked if Peterson looks like he has in past seasons. “He’s got the spin moves and he’ll stop on a dime and break it back. He sits back about eight-and-a-half yards deep, so he can go from D-gap to D-gap at any time. He’s a threat every time he touches it.”
So, how do you stop him?
“You’ve got to have everybody rushing to the ball and holding him up, and everybody getting there,” the coach offered.
The Seattle Seahawks discovered the formula, holding Peterson to just 18 yards on eight carries in a 38-7 win last week. After the game, Peterson told the media he felt his team was outplayed and outcoached. Asked if he felt like he needed more carries, Peterson — who at times during the offseason was rumored to be heading to Arizona via a trade — responded, “What do you think?”
The Cardinals would surely like to emulate what Seattle did — or at least see similar results — but Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher said there’s only so much that can be learned from watching the Seahawks’ approach to AP.
“You certainly look at everything, and you take all factors into consideration,” he said. “Whether they got down in that game and they did this or didn’t do that — you take all those things into consideration.
“But I think at the end of the day, it comes to getting off blocks and making tackles. Those guys did a great job in that game tackling, and that’s if there’s one thing we’ve talked about at the beginning of this week and we’ve talked about it every day, we have to tackle well in this game.”
If only it was that simple.
Arians said Peterson has been breaking nine-man fronts, adding, “One guy in a gap doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to tackle him.”
No, it takes a village to slow down one of the game’s all-time great running backs, and failure to do so could prove to be devastating for a Cardinals team with eyes on one of the NFC’s top-two playoff seeds.
“He can change a game with one play, one snap,” safety Rashad Johnson said. “He can go 90 (yards) with every carry that he gets. The big thing is to rally to the ball; we can’t be one-on-one tackles.”
The Cardinals are usually good about rallying to the football, and Peterson himself noted what kind of physicality and speed his Thursday opponent plays with.
“A group that pursues the ball well and they play fast,” he said. “That’s the most important thing that stuck out to me. Those guys definitely play fast and they go after the ball carrier.”
Though it would be understandable if the Cardinals went into the game thinking that stopping Peterson would equal a win and felt like their secondary would play a central role in limiting the back’s effectiveness, Bettcher pointed out the importance of not being too Peterson-centric.
“We talk about keeping your eyes on the prize, my coverage, eyes on the right spot,” Bettcher said. “That’s what [the Vikings] do really well — they run, run, run, then all of a sudden the ball gets stuck in the belly and pulled out in the play pass and my eyes are in the backfield and someone’s on top of me. So being disciplined on the perimeter with my eyes will be very important.”
Slip up, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could find receivers Stefon Diggs and Mike Wallace or tight end Kyle Rudolph down the field for big plays.
But no matter what options the Vikings have via the passing attack, it is Minnesota, which means the focus will be on No. 28 in purple and white. However, defensive lineman Cory Redding said the team’s plan to stop the run is not really dependent on whether or not the opposing running back is a future Hall of Famer, like Peterson, or a rookie, like Todd Gurley, who was held to just 41 yards on nine carries in Sunday’s win over St. Louis.
“Got to make them one dimensional, period, that’s what we do for everybody that comes in here,” he said of how the team deals with him. “Regardless if it’s A.P. or anybody else.
“We’ve got to attack him just like we attack every back. Gurley last week, we’ve got to stop him. So the mindset is the go get off the ball, get in the backfield and play the ball on their side of the line of scrimmage. Just attack and just keep going. Everybody shoot their gun, that’s pretty much what we’ve got to do.”
The mind set makes sense, and Arizona’s fourth-ranked run defense would seem to have as good a chance as anyone to limit the ever-dangerous Peterson. But just because they slowed Gurley and other backs does not guarantee they’ll be able to do the same to the Vikings’ star.
“It’s a different running game, and he’s an experienced, different runner,” Arians said. “Todd’s going to be a great player, but Adrian is a great player. It takes a total team effort to stop him.”