The planning for both sides has already begun on the first round of the annual border battle between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers and, based off of each team’s Week 1 performance, something is going to have to give when it comes to how the Packers are going to address Adrian Peterson.
Historically, Peterson has saved his best for Green Bay. Nobody has given up more yards to Peterson than the Packers. In 17 career games, Green Bay has surrendered 1,859 yards on 356 carries, 227 yards on 24 receptions and 14 touchdowns. That averages out to 21 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown every time Peterson has taken the field against Packers.
He’s done better against the Packers than he has Chicago or Detroit, despite both of those teams hitting hard times more often than not during Peterson’s career while the Packers have consistently been at the top of the NFC North.
The fact that the Vikings have gone 5-11-1 against Green Bay in the 17 games Peterson has played against them shouldn’t be discounted, but, for the most part, that record can’t be held against Peterson. He’s topped 100 yards eight times against them and had 175 or more four times. He has scored at least one touchdown in each of the last four meetings, eight of the last nine, and 13 of the last 15. He gets his when he plays Green Bay.
But, Week 1 proved to be reason for concern heading into the home opener at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Not only was Peterson held to one of the worst rushing games of his career Sunday, rushing 19 times for 31 yards – the only game with that many carries and that few yards was back in 2008 when the Saints held him to 31 yards on 21 carries (the Vikings won that game too) – but Green Bay showed something against the run as well.
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Last year, run defense was a problem for the Packers, who ranked 21st in the league by allowing 119 yards a game. The word was out – you can run on the Packers and achieve some success. But on Sunday we saw a different Packers run defense.
Granted, it was against a Jacksonville team that ranked 27th in the league in rushing last year. Things were so bad that the Jags were one of the few teams to invest free agent dollars in a running back in the offseason, signing Chris Ivory away from the Jets. Unfortunately, Ivory was hospitalized over the weekend and was out of the lineup.
It wasn’t as though Jacksonville abandoned the run against Green Bay Sunday. In fact, they ran more times than the Packers (26 times for the Jags, 25 for Green Bay). The Jaguars tried again and again and again – with no success.
As a team, the Jaguars ran 26 times for just 48 yards – a pathetic 1.8-yard rushing average – and had a long run of seven yards. It was similar to Peterson’s production on Sunday.
The vast majority of Jacksonville’s carries went to second-year running back T.J. Yeldon, who was the go-to running back as a rookie for the Jaguars. Yeldon finished with 21 carries for 39 yards. What made things worse was that, on his first eight carries, Yeldon gain 21 yards. On his last 13 rushes, he gained just 18 yards.
Green Bay negated him on a regular basis and the Packers were much more wary coming into the game of Blake Bortles and the Two Allens (Robinson and Hurns) than they were of the Jacksonville running game. Yet, they consistently stuffed the Jags at every turn.
Few teams are going to succeed with the approach that Tennessee took with the Vikings – flooding the box with eight or nine players every time Peterson was on the field (the Titans did that on 16 of Peterson’s 19 runs). The result was clear. While the Vikings didn’t score an offensive touchdown, they won the battle of field position because their top three receivers – Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen – gained yards in chunks.
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Of Hill’s 33 passes, 22 of them were targeted at those three players. They caught 15 of Hill’s 18 completions for 222 yards – an average of 15 yards per reception.
Tennessee picked its poison and it killed them in the end.
For those Vikings fans in panic mode that Peterson has hit the wall, climb back off the ledge. Last year he had 31 yards in the regular season opener and ended up winning the league rushing title.
The fact of the matter is that Peterson dials up his intensity against the Packers. Of his last 14 games, he has more than 20 carries nine times. Of the six games the Vikings have won or tied on Peterson’s watch, he has carried 25 or more times in five of them. In the 11 losses, A.P. has run more than 25 times just once.
The formula seems simple – the more you feed Peterson, the more success you’re going to have.
If the Vikings plan to take control of the early stages of the NFC North war, the formula for what limited success they have enjoyed is to strap a saddle on Peterson and ride him.
For the record, on the heels of his 31-yard performance last year at San Francisco – which looks like the 1985 Bears on Monday night home openers and the 2015 Bears the rest of the year – Peterson ran 29 times for 134 yards in Week 2.
While those may be lofty goals, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility given what Peterson has done to the Packers in the past.