Key matchup: Peterson vs. the field

Without much of an immediate threat at receiver, especially with a hobbling Percy Harvin, the Vikings will have to rely on Adrian Peterson (it could be a lot worse than that, right?). Peterson is a hot hand and the Cardinals have been porous in run defense.

The Moss-less Vikings begin the November portion of their schedule essentially where they were when October began – in a hole needing wins to get back into the playoff chase with significant questions at wide receiver and a banged-up Brett Favre. Prior to the trade for Randy Moss, the feeling was that the Vikings would have to lean heavily on Adrian Peterson if the Vikings were going to be successful. It would seem they are in an identical spot now that Moss is gone, making the battle between the Cardinals front seven (or eight … or nine) this week's key matchup.

With so much attention directed at the ongoing soap opera with names ranging from "All My Childress" to "The Vitanic," one thing that has essentially flown under the radar is the type of season Peterson is having. He is having a phenomenal season without the security blanket of Chester Taylor helping to shoulder the load. A.P. has rushed 165 times for 776 yards and six touchdowns on the ground and is second on the team in receptions with 22 catches for 194 yards. He is on pace to rush 377 times for 1,774 yards, catch 50 passes for 443 yards and score 14 touchdowns – the kind of numbers that put you in the mix for league MVP. Perhaps the most important stat of all is that Peterson has yet to fumble the ball this season, which most people felt was his biggest weakness.

When Moss was released, with him went the multiple coverages opposing defenses used to try to limit his production. Like it or not, despite diminishing numbers, Moss commanded two defenders on most plays, something the rest of the Vikings receiver corps can't say. Percy Harvin is likely to see double coverage and, barring that, there will likely be a safety sliding into the box. Peterson will have the onus on himself to force the Cardinals to press to stop the run, opening up the pass game. However, stopping Peterson even with eight in the box won't be easy for the Cardinals.

The Cardinals have been struggling to stop the run all season. While averaging just 20 carries a game themselves, which helps explain their eight-minute average disparity in time of possession, opponents haven't had it as difficult. Cardinals opponents have averaged 33 carries and 143 yards a game, and considering that those numbers have been produced by teams like an injury-riddled Chargers backfield, a makeshift Saints backfield and committees in both Seattle and Tampa Bay, they have been gashed by running backs far inferior to what Peterson brings to the table.

Coaches and players will stick to the time-honored homage to winning football – establish the run on offense and stop the run on defense. The 2010 Cardinals have smacked in the face of those conventions of how to achieve success in the NFL. The Cardinals seem like a team more than willing to abandon the run – no team has run the ball less than Arizona – and they have shown the inability to stop the run defensively. Perhaps that is why the two-time defending NFC West champs haven't been able to win consecutive games this season.

This has the smell of desperation to it. If the Vikings fall to 2-6, they will likely have to run the table the entire final two months of the season in order to make the playoffs. The Cardinals are a similar position, where they continue to take backward steps in their quest for a three-peat of the mild, mild West. For the Vikings to get back on track prior to critical divisional matchups with the Bears and Packers on horizon, Peterson may well live up to his All Day nickname. For the Vikings to win, Peterson will have to be the central figure and 30-plus carries may not be out of the realm of possibility – making this the key matchup on Sunday.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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