Without Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings went 7-9 last season.
With Peterson, the Vikings are 7-2 and winners of five in a row heading into a huge NFC North showdown against the slumping Green Bay Packers at Minnesota on Sunday.
After being suspended for most of last season due to child-abuse allegations, Peterson is having a monster season, with a league-high 961 rushing yards, a 4.9-yard average and five touchdowns. That’s got him on a pace to finish with 1,708 rushing yards, which would be the third-most in his illustrious career.
Not surprisingly, Peterson’s brought the rest of the up-and-coming Vikings along for the ride. The Vikings are 5-0 when he rushes for 100 yards. Minnesota’s winning streak started with Peterson rushing for just 60 yards on 23 carries vs. Kansas City. In the four games since, he rushed for 98 yards at Detroit, 103 yards at Chicago, 125 yards vs. St. Louis and 203 yards at Oakland. That’s a four-game total of 529 yards and a 5.6-yard average
“I think Adrian, ever since I’ve walked in here, he’s done everything that I’ve asked him to do,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said in a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday morning. “He comes to work, he’s out here every single day. He’s here even on off-days. I think he’s very focused. He’s bought into the team attitude, even though he’s obviously a big part of the team. He’s been great. He’s running very well. He runs with violence. I think maybe early he was trying to make 80-yard runs every time he touched the ball. Now, it seems like he’s settled in and he’s just running where the holes are and then he’s breaking these 10-, 12-yard runs, and then sometimes he hits the real big ones.”
If age 30 is the career wall for a running back, then Peterson has taken that violent running style and plowed right through that wall – not to mention some defenders – in his comeback season.
“First of all, he’s got great genes,” Zimmer said. “The other thing is this guy works. You’ll see him in here on off-days and he’ll be sprinting 100s in the indoor facility. He loves working out. He takes great care of his body. Really, in the weight room and conditioning and things like that, he is like most of the great ones I’ve been around.”
In 14 games against Green Bay, Peterson has rushed for 1,648 yards, averaged 5.5 yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns. One of his six career 200-yard rushing games came at Green Bay on Dec. 2, 2012. Later that month, he rushed for 199 yards against Green Bay at the Metrodome.
“We’re getting ready to play a football team that runs the ball and they keep running it and they keep running it and they keep running it and eventually Adrian Peterson breaks one,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday.
Behind Peterson, the Vikings rank No. 1 in rushing with 147.2 yards per game and No. 3 with 4.84 yards per attempt. He’s rushed for almost as many yards (961) as Green Bay has as a team (972), and he’ll be a major challenge for a Packers run defense that ranks No. 24 against the run (116.2 per game) and No. 21 in yards per carry (4.22), even after turning in strong performances in back-to-back games vs. Carolina and Detroit.
“You put on the tape,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said, “and anybody who’s watched football understands that 28, you better have your chin strap buttoned up and you better get 11 people going there with good leverage, and you better tackle and do all those things you have to do to play good run defense. Gap fits, aggressiveness, multiple hits. We played against Adrian Peterson enough to know what he’s capable of doing and he obviously did that against the Raiders.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.