As he begins the second half of his fifth NFL season, there isn't much Adrian Peterson hasn't seen in his career. But when he heads to Lambeau Field, much less on a Monday night, there is a little extra giddy-up in his step.
Peterson said he is looking forward to heading back to Green Bay for his annual pilgrimage, because, in many ways, it harkens back to his earliest days of being a dominant football player.
"It's a great stadium to play in," Peterson said. "Just the town – the stadium is surrounded by houses. You kind of get the sense of being in high school again and playing. I'm excited and I know a lot of the guys are too."
In the Vikings' last game – a win over Carolina – fans saw a different side of Peterson. He was used as a receiver and set a personal best with 76 receiving yards on five catches. It was a departure from his role in the offense prior to the Carolina game. In his first seven games, he had caught just 11 passes for 49 yards. He was little more than a dump-off option. He became a passing-game weapon against the Panthers and he said he expects that to continue when the Vikings head to Green Bay.
"I think I'll be more involved (in the passing game)," Peterson said. "If I'm open, I'm sure (Ponder) will find me once he goes through his reads. I'm like the guy he can come to in need. I'm going to try my best as far as getting open. He has to do his job of finding me at those moments and try to take advantage of it."
As dangerous as Peterson can be as a runner, incorporating him into the passing game makes him even more lethal. He's never been accustomed to getting the ball on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage and being wide open when he gets his hands on the ball. He said he has taken on more of a receiver's mindset – he believes he is open and gets frustrated at times when he is alone and nobody else is in his general vicinity. He said the key is perfecting his technique and his route-running and, if he does that, he will get the ball more often.
"Sometimes I don't get the ball and I'm like, ‘Ag-g-h. I was wide open' and sometimes they find me," Peterson said. "I've just got to make sure I'm in the right position when the ball is thrown my way and do the best I can with it."
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said that the most difficult part of incorporating Peterson into the passing game down the field is that so much defensive focus is placed upon him that he can't simply fake a handoff and sift his way through the line. Every defensive player, whether a defensive lineman, a linebacker or a defensive back, keeps an eye on Peterson and converges on him whenever the ball is snapped – whether he has the ball or not.
"At times, it's tough to get Adrian through the line of scrimmage because there are a bunch of people up there jamming him," Musgrave said. "Another way to do it is to throw him some good catchable balls where he can get through that first line of defense and then let him do his thing. It just worked out (against Carolina) both schematically and by the way that Carolina played a couple of snaps of zone (defense) and they just dropped exceptionally deep. The quarterback did a good job of finding Peterson."
While Peterson opened up his arsenal against the Panthers as both a runner and receiver, he had his most prolific game of the season in the first meeting with the Packers – rushing 24 times for a season-high 175 yards, including a season-high 54-yard run. He credited much of his success to the effective deep passing of Christian Ponder, who forced the Packers to go away from their pregame plan of smothering the box with eight or nine defenders to attack Peterson.
"We were able to be effective in the passing game," Peterson said. "Those guys weren't able to just stack the box like they wanted to. They had to play honest and play a balanced defense."
In his last game prior to the bye, Peterson was as multi-dimensional as he has been all season – rushing 20 times for 83 yards and a touchdown and catching five passes for 76 yards and another score. He was stymied for much of the first half, but said that the Vikings commitment to their game plan paid dividends because they never panicked and went away from their offensive bread and butter.
"I think it was more of wearing those guys down," Peterson said. "They did a good job stopping the run in the first half, but we just stayed true to what we do – pound the ball. We started to wear them down and take advantage of it."
Peterson also worked on his speed in the offseason, according to head coach Leslie Frazier.
"(He) just seemed extremely determined to have a great year," Frazier said. "When I talked with him when the lockout was over and prior to it, he talked to me about getting more involved in track and increasing his speed. I'm going like, ‘Man, increasing his speed?' He's probably the fastest guy on our team and one of the fastest in the league, if not the fastest, and he said he wanted to get faster. He told me he was involved in some 100-meter races or something he did this offseason to improve his speed and it seems he has. He runs as hard as he ever has and just seems so much more determined than I remember him being."
As the Vikings head into Lambeau Field as prohibitive underdogs, it should come as no surprise that Peterson will be front and center for the Vikings offense. He said he's looking forward to the annual border battle with the Packers, but said the prospect of being the team that knocks Green Bay from the ranks of the unbeaten isn't his top priority. Instead, he is looking at trying to continue the growth the Vikings have made with Ponder as their quarterback and the fact that the Packers are still undefeated won't be on his mind.
"Me personally, I don't feel that way," Peterson said of any extra motivation given the Packers' record. "I'm all about getting the win and focusing on what we're trying to accomplish. In order to accomplish that, we have to beat Green Bay. It doesn't matter if they are 8-0 or 7-1, we're just trying to get a ‘W.'"
If the Vikings are to defeat Green Bay, chances are No. 28 will have to be the primary focus – early and often – Monday night.
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.
Peterson focused on receiving, better speed
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