Film Room: A Cautionary Tale Of How Not To Defend Adrian Peterson

Doc Bear zeroes in on a single play from the Vikings 31-14 Week 3 beatdown on the Chargers to show what the Broncos don't want to do when defending Adrian Peterson on Sunday.

On Sunday, September 27th, the San Diego Chargers were on the road in Minnesota. The Vikings gave them a rousing welcome. Adrian Peterson carried 20 times for 126 yards and two touchdowns in a classic beat-down.

At 5:29 of the third quarter, San Diego showed some of the reasons that they were getting pounded so badly. To be fair, they were down to five offensive linemen who could even suit up. Phillip Rivers was sacked four times and intercepted once, due to pressure. Much of the defense was also dealing with injuries.

There was plenty of blame to go around. Part of it was that the Bolts were badly afflicted with the injury bug. The rest of the problem was the play of the remaining players.

One of the keys to keeping it together when things get ugly is to hold on tight to the fundamentals of your position. Gap discipline and setting the edge are essential against a run-oriented team. Weak fundamentals invite long plays by your opponents.

Let’s break down what went wrong, focusing on the linebackers on that play. Manti Te'o is  #50 and Donald Butler is #56 . OLB Kyle Emanuel is #51.

This play came with Minnesota on the San Diego 33-yard-line, 1st-and-10. As the play starts, Minnesota has two tight ends on the defensive right and a man in motion. San Diego has Craig Mager (#29) shadowing the player in motion.  Eric Weddle (#32) is staying home in case one of the right-side TEs runs a route. He drifted farther toward the sideline than he should. 

Te’o is guarding the left A-gap, while Butler covers the right B-gap. ROLB Emanuel is standing over the right outside TE. Weddle is there in case the inside TE runs a route, but he’s too far away, toward the sideline.  

The Minnesota O-line isn’t trying to hide what they’re doing with this play. There’s a man in motion, but the Vikings still have two TEs on the right. When a team puts five guys on one end of the OL (overloading), it generally signals a run. This was no exception.

At the snap, all of San Diego's front-three are well engaged. NT Ryan Carrethers was in 0-technique, helmet-to-helmet with the center. Matt Kalil (#75) is the right tackle. He easily overpowers the RDE. The LDE (#97, Darius Philon) is too far from the play to affect it, unless he flashes through and tackles Peterson in the backfield.  

Minnesota did three smart things at the snap. First, the O-line blocked toward the defensive left, clearing the running lane. Second, left guard Brandon Fusco (#63) fired to the second level and engaged Butler, who couldn’t stack and shed him. Third, TE Rhett Ellison (#85) fired out to help with the RDE. He left that block to the tackle, and put Te’o down. Bad play by T’eo.

What led to it? It’s simple. Watch the GIF carefully. Butler and Te’o switch sides at the snap. Te’o became the player who should have shut this play down for short yardage. He shuffle-steps well, not crossing his feet, but he badly overruns the play.

Trying to recover leaves him off balance. He slips as he tries to fly back to reset the edge. That makes Ellison’s job of blocking him easy. Kyle Emanuel is engaged with the outside TE, who pretends that Emanuel is driving him back toward the center.

The truth is, that’s exactly what the TE wanted. It clears Emanuel from the play, keeping him from setting the right edge. Te’o, who should have taken over setting the edge, is already going down.

This establishes a clear path for Adrian Peterson around the corner. He took the handoff and swept to the gaping hole. Weddle was too far outside to get back and slow him.

As Peterson comes around the corner, he sees Charger uniforms ahead and cuts back toward the center. Butler couldn’t shed Fusco, so Peterson flies past them. Eventually, safety Jimmy Wilson gets his hands on him. CB Patrick Robinson comes in to help. Emanuel has disengaged and ran in front of Peterson, in case he breaks away from the DBs. The run gained 10 yards and a first down.

So, what went wrong? The RDE didn’t keep his head up. He both lost sight of the play and was beaten by his man.

OLB Emanuel forgot one of the oldest rules in football. If your man gives way too easily, you’re biting on a fake. He lost the edge. He, too, failed to keep his head up and completely lost gap discipline.

There’s nothing wrong with Butler and Te’o switching as they did. Yet Te’o also failed to watch the play. He had the angle to hit Peterson just past the line of scrimmage. Instead, he badly overran the play and slipped trying to get back. It was his job to re-set the edge in Emanuel’s absence, but he showed very poor technique.

Butler just couldn’t shed the LG. Since Peterson was at his right as he cut back, Butler should have been able to reach him. But Fusco was tenacious, and reacquired the block.

This doesn’t give the Denver Broncos any clues to the Vikings that they didn’t already know. Slowing Peterson is Job No. 1 this weekend. This serves as a reminder not to overrun the play when you’re attacking, but that hasn’t often been a problem this season for Denver. It does remind them that San Diego has some major personnel problems right now.

Sloppy technique loses games. The final tally was 31-14, and it could have been worse. Denver doesn’t get the Chargers until December 6th. Things might change.

But SD is going to need a lot of coaching between now and then. They may be worse right now than the improving Raiders. That’s a sad thought if you’re a Bolts fan.

Animated Images via NFL Game Pass.

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Doc Bear is a Featured Columnist for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @alloverfatman.

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