There are times when destiny in the NFL seems to converge for a big performance. A year ago, when the Vikings needed a road win at Chicago coming out of their bye week, Adrian Peterson set a franchise record rushing for 224 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Vikings to a 34-31 win. Much the same feeling is in the air as the Vikings play the Detroit Lions Sunday, making the battle between Peterson and the Lions defensive front seven this week's Matchup to Watch.
Few teams in the league are more inept at stopping the run than the Lions. Through four games, Detroit has allowed 720 yards on the ground and surrendered seven rushing touchdowns. That translates to 180 yards and two touchdowns in every game. Detroit has been scorched by Michael Turner, Frank Gore and Matt Forte already this year and nobody will argue that they are as dangerous as Peterson.
The Lions have been able to limit the Vikings rushing game in recent years largely due to Shaun Rogers. He was traded to Cleveland after talks for a contract extension failed. He was a massive run-stuffer that took away much of the between-the-tackles running of opponents. With him out of the picture, the Lions have been shredded between the tackles – with Chuck Darby, Shaun Cody and Cory Redding often being steered out of the way and creating massive holes for opposing running backs. With A.D. coming, they know what to expect.
Having the 31st rated run defense (only the Colts are worse), Detroit has good reason to fear what Peterson can do to them. He is coming off arguably his worst game as a pro – never has he rushed more than 20 times in a game and gained so few yards – and is itching to take it out on someone.
Like many future opponents, the Lions clearly have watched the film of Monday's game with the New Orleans to see what the Saints did that so confounded the Vikings last week and had Peterson spinning his wheels for the entire game. They will likely incorporate many of the eight- and nine-in-the-box schemes that the Saints used almost the entire game against the Vikings. In that respect, it will be up to the passing game to make them pay for that, but expect to see the Vikings impose their will and pound both Peterson and Chester Taylor at the Lions.
Games in which Peterson has been frustrated have been rare. Entering last week's game, A.D. was second in the NFL in rushing and only two yards away from the league lead. Entering play this week, he is third in the league and now 91 yards off the pace being set by Turner (543) and second-place Clinton Portis (514). Peterson has made it clear that he wants to be the leading rusher in the league and has a goal of 2,000 yards rushing. Last week's 21 carries for 32 yards gave that goal a severe hit and you can bet that Peterson is prepared to erase the memory of that game with a huge performances against the Lions.
The Lions are the ideal matchup to face this week. The offensive line has been taken to task for its inability to open holes and Peterson is looking to have the explosive games that have put him in the class of elite running backs in the NFL. From the Vikings' perspective, this has to look like a perfect marriage of strength and weakness – a porous defense against one of the league's best rush offenses that is mad, at home and has something to prove. Peterson is expected to make the Lions pay and the timing seems right.
Matchup to watch: A.D. vs. Lions D
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