Matchup to watch: A.D. vs. run ‘D'

It's no secret what the Vikings' offensive strength is – running the ball with Adrian Peterson. But this week he might face his biggest challenge yet, a Bucs defense that is playing great run defense, especially at home. The numbers indicate a tough battle is on deck.

Last week when the Vikings were in danger of falling a game back in the standings in the NFC North with the potential of being 0-3 against the two teams they were trying to catch (Chicago and Green Bay), they leaned heavily on running back Adrian Peterson. Not only did he carry the ball 30 times for 192 yards and catch three passes for 33 more yards, in the seven plays of the game-winning touchdown drive, Peterson handled the ball six times. With the season potentially on the line, Peterson ran the ball four times for 40 yards and caught two passes for 24 yards, accounting for 64 of the 69 yards the Vikings needed to gain. Now the Vikings are looking to either maintain their tie with the Bears or move into sole possession of first place this week, and A.D.'s battle with the front seven of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is this week's matchup to watch.

The Vikings enter play this week with the league's fifth-rated rushing offense, which is led by Peterson – who already has 1,015 yards and seven touchdowns on 206 carries. Veteran Chester Taylor, who was in something of a time share much of last season with Peterson, has managed just 56 carries this season – about six carries a game as opposed to Peterson's average of 23 carries. There has been a clear changing of the guard and the Vikings have leaned heavily on Peterson to provide them with the offensive spark they need.

As a team, the Vikings have 14 rushes of 15 yards or more and 12 other carries of 20 yards or better – all of them by A.D. Four of those carries came last week against the Packers and just as many are expected this week. Peterson will be a workhorse. In the last five games, he has had more than 20 carries in each of them and the Vikings have responded by winning four of those five games.

The problem the Vikings will face is a Monte Kiffin-run defense that has been pretty stingy against the run. Despite a schedule filled with teams that run the ball effectively, the Bucs defense has limited opponents to just 3.8 yards per rushing attempt, have allowed just six runs of more than 20 yards and have a season-long rush against them of 45 yards. Perhaps more importantly, through nine games, Tampa Bay has allowed just one rushing touchdown. It is a swarming defense that clearly will be game-planning the Vikings to stop Peterson and force Gus Frerotte and the passing game to beat them.

This isn't really anything new – just about every Vikings opponent comes into the game looking to stop A.D. as their top priority. Few have been very effective. Peterson has rushed for 100 yards or more in six games this season, including each of the last four, against defenses designed to limit his effectiveness. The Bucs are a different team at Raymond James Stadium, where they have a 4-0 record and have outscored opponents by a significant margin (101-43). They have played mostly competent offenses in those four games (Atlanta, Green Bay, Carolina and Seattle), but have allowed just four touchdowns total.

With a game that looks to be a low-scoring, tight-to-the-vest sort of game, being able to spring Peterson for a huge gain or control the clock by pounding him at the Tampa defense throughout the day will be critical to the Vikings handing the Buccaneers their first home loss of the season – making A.D. against the Bucs' front seven this week's matchup to watch.

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