The Vikings have figured out the key to success for the 2007 season – let Adrian Peterson keep running the ball and wait for him to break off an explosive run that changes the momentum of a game. In two of the three Vikings' win this season, Peterson has rushed for 200 or more yards and scored three touchdowns in each. Most of those long touchdown runs have occurred on plays where he broke the initial contain of the outside linebackers, making his battle with Packers linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brady Poppinga this week's Matchup to Watch.
Coming off his NFL record-setting performance against the Chargers last week, the Packers know that Peterson is going to be the focus of the Vikings offense. When they met the first time this season, Peterson ran just 12 times, but gained 112 yards and gave the Vikings offense its only spark. The Packers know this time around that he will see the ball considerably more often than he did in the first meeting.
For those who have watched Peterson wow the league in his first eight games as a professional, they have seen that most of his long runs have not started as sweeps to the right or left. Most have begun as off-tackle plays that he pops outside after getting through the defensive line. With the ability to cut on a dime and reach top speed quickly, Peterson has been able to transform runs that most backs would gain 10 yards on into rushes that go for 50 yards or more.
Hawk is a tremendous sideline-to-sideline athlete who has a great nose for the ball, and it was his tackle on Larry Johnson last week that has put his 2007 season in jeopardy. He is a finisher who typically brings down any opposing player he gets his hands on. Poppinga is far less polished and will likely be the player the Vikings target when it comes to directional runs by A.P. If he doesn't stand tall, the Packers could find themselves being the latest victims of the Peterson Patrol.
Like most great running backs, it is difficult to completely shut them down. The goal of most defenses is simply to contain them. They will get their yards, so the goal is to limit the long runs that can change the complexion of the game and give the other team offensive momentum and rhythm. Following his 224-yard performance against the Bears, Peterson was limited to just 63 yards on 12 carries by the Cowboys, who held the ball for 36:35 of the game and never allowed the Vikings offense to get untracked. If the Vikings are to come out of Lambeau Field with a win Sunday, it will likely be the direct result of Peterson being able to break runs that either result in touchdowns or get the Vikings into scoring position. It will be the primary objective of Hawk and Poppinga to stop that from happening, making this the Matchup to Watch this week.