With Adrian Peterson's success running the football during the middle portion of the season, defensive coordinators playing against the Vikings might want to borrow a line head coach Brad Childress used last year, via Popeye: "I've had all I can stands; I can't stands no more."
Peterson has gotten the attention of coaches around the league, for sure.
"He sure doesn't look like a rookie," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said of Peterson. "You can tell why his collegiate career is so impressive. Even when he was hampered with some injuries, you saw signs as a freshman in college, the way he played against Texas, that this guy was a phenomenal athlete. .. You can see why people had him projected as a top guy as a freshman because he is a unique talent obviously playing with an excellent offensive line."
After having three games during the first half of the season in which he averaged more than 9 yards per carry, defensive coordinators have begun to catch on – treat Peterson as a normal running back and he will gash defenses for abnormal amounts of yardage.
Broncos safety John Lynch said that sometimes it takes people around the league some time to earn respect, but after watching film of Peterson this week, you won't find Lynch waiting to give the rookie credit.
"We got into our game plan and watching film (on Wednesday) and they just had a run reel," Lynch said. "I asked my coach, ‘Are you sure this is not a highlight tape?' It was a lot of highlights and they have got the total package in terms of a tremendous front line …
"I talked to some of the coaches from the Chargers and they said, ‘Look, we knew the kid was good. We didn't know he was that good.' Sometimes people are slow to give respect in this league. People have got to earn it, and he has certainly earned it and you have seen the result of that."
The result for the Chargers was that they put Peterson in the NFL record book when their defense allowed him to run for an all-time record 296 yards.
In the five games Peterson has played since then, however, everyone has noticed a change in the way defenses are approaching the Vikings. The San Francisco 49ers brought their cornerbacks on blitzes to contain the outside running game and speedy linebacker Patrick Willis to help patrol the middle of the field. The Chicago Bears brought extra defenders into the defensive box near the line of scrimmage, and the Washington Redskins used either five defensive linemen or four linebackers to bring more defenders up front than the Vikings could account for.
"That's simple math because one guy who can't block is the quarterback. You eliminate him and you have an extra man running free in the box sometimes, but sometimes with scheme you can overcome those things," said Vikings fullback Tony Richardson. "But the bottom line is that sometimes you have to be balanced on offense. … You have to have the threat on both the run and the pass."
However, the Vikings' passing game hasn't been as effective as it needs to be in those situations, especially early in games. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has thrown two interceptions in each of the last two first halves of games as the Vikings have fallen behind.
While Childress admitted that the Vikings may have been too slow to switch gears and start passing their way out of stacked defenses, Jackson would like to see the running game overcome the disproportionate numbers.
"They are pretty much going to do what they do anyway, regardless of whatever. They've been putting the eighth guy in the box a lot and we expect to see that, and hopefully we can get the run game going this week with the eighth guy in the box regardless," Jackson said. "We've just got to do anything we've got to do to get guys running lanes and stuff like that. If it's passing the football first and then open up different lanes, that's fine. If it's running the football first to open up the passing to kind of keep them balanced, that's fine too, but we've got to find any kind of way to get it done."
Using the passing game to their advantage would seem to be the logical way to exploit defenses that are too aggressive in stopping the run, but the Vikings haven't had a 100-yard receiver or passed for more than 250 yards this season.
Richardson indicated that in some cases each individual Viking will have to simply get better at beating the man he is supposed to be blocking.
"Sometimes you can line up in different personnel and different shifts and movements to get out of that stuff, but the game of football is man whupping man," he said. "Sometimes you've just got to whup the man in front of you and let the cards play. But you definitely have to pass the football in the National Football League in order to be successful."
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell admitted that defenses bringing an extra player up to support the run against quality running backs is nothing new. Part of defeating that, he said, is being more precise with the offensive linemen while Peterson can also help his own cause by setting up those blocks better.
"There are a lot of things that go into it, what blocking schemes they are putting in front of him on specific plays, exactly where he needs to put his eyes, what his reads are, what will tell him to take it front side, what will tell him to take it back side, and just continuing to sharpen up that with exactly when it's a zone scheme, when it's a man scheme," Bevel said. "And that changes where he needs to put his eyes, where he needs to think the ball is going to go and try to anticipate those kinds of things."
Childress and Jackson both indicated that the Broncos will likely use safety John Lynch closer to the line of scrimmage to try to foil Peterson. The problem is that the Broncos have the 30th-ranked run defense, but Lynch said that has improved since they made some post-bye adjustments that will be tested for the final time this season against the Vikings.
"We really, really struggled against the run early in the year trying to play a lot of seven-man fronts, and ever since about our bye week we have been doing a lot more eight-man fronts, so it has pretty much been standard the last five, six, seven games," Lynch said.
Standard approaches against the Vikings haven't happened much in the second half of the season. For good reason. Since his record-breaking game against the Chargers, Peterson has had only one game in which he has averaged more than 4.2 yards per carry – a 7.7-yard average against Detroit Lions. That was his first game back following a two-game absence because of a knee injury and it was the only time in the second half of the season he has exceeded 100 yards rushing.
Part of that drop in production could be on the Vikings' offense approach or execution, but some of it undoubtedly lies in the commitment defenses have made to thwart the likely offensive rookie of the year.
"I know if I was playing the Minnesota Vikings, that would be the No. 1 thing I'd try to stop as well," Richardson said.
For the Broncos, LB Ian Gold (knee), TE Daniel Graham (ankle) and WR Brandon Stokley (knee) are listed as questionable. Graham was the only one of those three to participate in practice on a limited basis Friday. QB Jay Cutler (knee), WR Javon Walker (knee), DE John Engelberger (shoulder), DT Steven Harris (knee), S John Lynch (back) and C Chris Myers (ankle) are all listed as probable and participated fully in Friday's practice.