When the Minnesota Vikings squared off against the Detroit Lions during the second week of the NFL’s regular season, Adrian Peterson was able to rush for 134 yards on 29 carries. The two teams met again on Sunday, and from the start it was clear the Lions were intent on not letting that happen again.
They keyed in on Peterson early and focused on stopping the run, and for a majority of the game it worked for them. At halftime, Peterson had nine rushes for 14 yards, averaging just 1.6 yards per carry. And if it wasn’t for a 75-yard run he had in the third quarter he would have only rushed for 23 yards during the game.
When a team is so focused in on one part of a team’s offense, other areas of the field will usually open up. That’s what happened Sunday and the Vikings were able to take advantage of the Lions through the air.
“We knew that they weren’t going to let Adrian run the way he did the first time we played them,” Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. “But Adrian still did a great job of coming out of this game with some big plays for us on the offensive side of the ball. It helped out in the passing game. We were able to get some favorable matchups on the outside. Stefon Diggs stepped up for us today again. Then you talk about Adam (Thielen), coming in, mixing things up and having a big catch for us. Zach Line, a guy who’s doing all the dirty work around here and for him to get his hands on the football and make a big play for us, I was very excited for those guys.”
Thielen was used throughout the game, but primarily as an extra blocker. But at the end of the third quarter he came in on a second-and-15 and lined up right off the line of scrimmage, much like he had been all day when he was on the field.
The Vikings ran a play-action fake to Peterson up the middle and that opened things up for Thielen to sneak behind the defense and go for a 30-yard gain. Big plays like that are often available for the Vikings because of the presence of Peterson in the backfield. Even when he is not having a great day on the ground, defenses always have to respect him because he always has the ability to score from anywhere on the field.
“Understanding the down and distance, those guys were thinking run,” Bridgewater said when asked if the Lions bit on the play-action during Thielen’s big gain. “Adrian did a great job selling the run, clamping down like he had the football to get those linebackers and defensive backs to step up and it freed Adam. It was just a great play call.”
The play-action pass is an important part of the Vikings offense because of the respect opponents have for Peterson. He has proven to be one of the best running backs in the NFL year in and year out and that causes opponents to key in and focus on him. But when they do that, it opens up plays in the passing game.
When the Vikings are able to take advantage of having Peterson in their backfield, they become the type of team they want to be: a balanced one.
“We just want to be a balanced team, a balanced offense,” Bridgewater said. “I think today we did a good job of that. Like I said, Adrian still did a great job of making plays for us, even with Detroit keying on the run. You give credit to the offensive line opening up holes for him to make those big plays and giving me time back there to deliver the football to the playmakers on the outside.”
Bridgewater ended the game completing 25 passes on 35 attempts for 316 yards and two touchdowns. If he is able to continue to take advantage of opposing defenses when they key on his running back, teams will begin to focus on him more, which could then open things back up for Peterson on the ground.