It can be argued that Sunday's game with the Green Bay Packers is the most important game the Vikings have played since they met the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game in January 2010. There are matchups across the board on both sides of the ball that will have an impact on who wins or loses Sunday, but no fight will be more critical than Adrian Peterson going against the defensive front of the Packers.
When asked earlier this season about how he reacts to seeing eight defenders in the box, Peterson was nonplussed. As he sees it, he's been facing eight or more defensive players in the box since he was in high school. That didn't change when he went to Oklahoma. It hasn't changed since he joined the NFL. He routinely faces eight defenders in the box and, at times, nine or 10 – a fact film review shows. It is no secret that defenses game plan for the Vikings specifically with the top priority being to stop Peterson by any means necessary. That is what makes this matchup so critical because there are layers to Peterson being effective that will impact both teams in a profound way.
Of all the comparisons that can be made between the Vikings and Packers, the most glaring and most obvious is at quarterback. Aaron Rodgers is an elite quarterback and arguably has the most complete skill set of any quarterback in the league when combining accuracy, arm strength, mobility and scrambling ability. Christian Ponder has struggled badly at times in his first full season as a starter. If the Packers can limit Peterson or get an early lead, the onus of bringing the Vikings back will fall on the shoulders of Ponder. In their first meeting, Ponder made the critical errors that cost the Vikings a chance to win the game. Green Bay is looking for a repeat performance and it will be up to Peterson to prevent that from happening.
The importance of Peterson being able to take the pressure off of Ponder has a ripple effect on both sides of the ball. Every time a team runs the ball, it takes 30-40 seconds off the game clock. It can help sustain long drives and, if the runs are effective, move the ball down the field. Not only will that move the Vikings into scoring position, but it will also keep Rodgers off the field. Rodgers can't do any damage if he's on the sidelines.
The cumulative toll of Peterson having a prolific day on the ground will also serve a dual purpose. It will keep the Packers defense on the field and, as time goes on, could wear them down and make them vulnerable to big plays as they get more tired. At the same time, the Vikings defense will have an opportunity to stay fresh and, when Green Bay has the ball, be able to attack Rodgers at full steam.
The first time the Vikings met the Packers, Peterson ran for 210 yards on 21 carries. While it may be a tall order to expect that kind of yardage again, it won't be surprising if Peterson runs the ball 30 times or more. If the Vikings can establish the run early and get a lead, Peterson could be critical to the performance of both teams on both sides of the ball, making his matchup with the Packers' front seven (or eight or nine) the key matchup as the Vikings hope to seal the deal on their improbable 2012 push for the playoffs.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Key matchup: Peterson vs. the stacked box
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