This much we know: Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is the best ball carrier in the NFL. No player in the league possesses his blend of size, strength, speed and sheer determination to not go down. Peterson can beat you by plowing over a linebacker or sidestepping a safety and outracing the defense. And if you sleep on him in the passing game, he'll make you pay.
Few players possess his homerun ability on every play, and he works in an offense that lacks a powerful passing attack. So if you want to beat the Vikings, you have to stop Peterson. It's something of which the Chicago Bears are fully aware.
"He'll be all we can handle," coach Marc Trestman said today. "The guys here know that. They've played against him enough to know that."
Last season, just eight months removed from surgery to replace a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee, Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards, which is nine yards shy of the all-time NFL single-season record. It was truly an amazing accomplishment by a player most will agree is an athletic freak.
"I don't have to look at the tape to evaluate him," Trestman said. "He's exactly what you see every time he touches the ball it looks like he feels like it may be the last time he ever touches a football again and you see that a lot. He was already a great player and then you come off the kind of injury he did, you have a lot of time to think. It's obvious by the way he plays. He knew the player he wanted to come back and be."
So in defending the Vikings, Peterson has to come first. That means all 11 defenders must put a premium on shutting down the future Hall of Famer and forcing QB Christian Ponder and Minnesota's passing attack, which finished 31st in the league last season, to beat them.
"[Peterson] is a huge challenge," said coordinator Mel Tucker. "He's one of the best backs to ever play the game, so everyone's got to do their job. I mean, everyone, everyone has to be at the point of attack every time he gets the ball. Front side, back side, D-line, linebackers, secondary, every time he gets the ball he can go the distance and we know that. It's a matter of technique and fundamentals, and everyone doing their job, and fitting where they're supposed to fit, and playing hard and getting a population on the ball. We don't want to leave it up to one guy. That's very important."
Last week, Peterson rattled off a 78-yard touchdown on his first carry of the season. Yet the Lions held him to just 15 yards on his remaining 17 carries. It's game film Chicago's coaching staff is surely studying this week.
"Teams try to come up with different schemes each week, different ways to try to get more people in the box to defend [Peterson] and Detroit was no different a week ago." said Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier. "It wasn't things that we hadn't seen before. But we just didn't handle them as well. They did what a lot of teams were doing late in the year, putting a lot of guys at the line of scrimmage and daring us to win downfield. And we did hit some plays down the field but we kept turning the ball over so we couldn't keep drives going. Detroit did a good job. And I'm sure Chicago will look at what Detroit did and employ some of the same tactics."
And when it comes to tackling him, teams usually need more than one player to take down Peterson, one of the most physical runners in the game.
"I think he's in a league of his own; another elite player in this game," Charles Tillman said. "He was definitely the MVP for a reason last year. I think our defense will have our hands full, but he's a guy that makes you play team football. You can't just have one guy tackle him. You want to have a population tackle. So yeah, I think he will be a good challenge for us."
That term "population tackling" has permeated the Bears' locker room this week, so expect Chicago to have 11 players flying to Peterson when he carries the ball on Sunday. Because if they don't, the team risks losing a home contest against an NFC North foe, a foe that went to the playoffs last year due to a tiebreaker over the Bears.
"The biggest thing is just playing disciplined, gap-to-gap football and that's what we have to do to stop him," Corey Wootton said. "Rally to the ball because obviously he's a powerful guy, shifty as well. He's a combination of everything, so you have to population tackle him."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.