It's rare when you have two players that won't be on the field at the same time to be a matchup to watch. Typically, such matchups are a pass-rushing defensive end against an anchor left tackle or wide receiver against a cover cornerback. But this week's game between the Vikings and Atlanta Falcons is not your standard matchup, making running backs Adrian Peterson and Michael Turner this week's matchup to watch.
The two have combined to play in 28 games and between them have rushed 652 times for 3,002 yards and 24 touchdowns. Peterson leads the NFL with 1,581 rushing yards, while Turner is second with 1,421 yards. Turner leads the NFL in rushing attempts with 332. Peterson is second with 320. Not only are they the only two running backs with more than 320 carries, there is only one other running back in the league with more than 280 carries (Clinton Portis, 291).
No running backs have been used more by their respective team and are more critical to their offenses than Peterson and Turner. The last time Peterson faced such a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2 in rushing was last year against San Diego. In that game, A.D. set the all-time NFL rushing record for yards in a game – sending a clear message to the rest of the league that there was a changing of the guard underway among the elite NFL running backs. Turner poses a similarly daunting challenge.
Turner made a big splash in his regular-season debut for the Falcons, rushing 22 times for 220 yards and two TDs against Detroit. However, that proved to be just the tip of the iceberg. Through 14 games, he has rushed for 100 or more yards in seven games and has at least one touchdown in eight games – with two or more in four contests. But what makes his contribution to the Falcons so important is the success the team has when he is running the ball consistently. In games in which Turner rushes for 100 yards, the Falcons are 7-0. In games that he doesn't, they are 2-5. In games in which he has 20 or more carries, Atlanta is 9-1. In games he hasn't had 20 carries, the Falcons are 0-4.
It is quite clear what he means to the Atlanta offense. If he gets to carry the ball 20 times and dictate the pace of the offense, the Falcons win. If he is held in check, odds are the rest of the team won't rally without him for a victory.
The same can be said about Peterson, but the numbers aren't that pronounced. A.D. has rushed for 100 or more yards in nine games. Two of those came at the beginning of the season – both in Vikings losses. But in his last seven games in which he has rushed for 100 yards or more, the Vikings are 6-1, including wins in each of the last three games. The Vikings are also 7-2 when Peterson rushes 20 times or more and 2-3 when he doesn't. Again, the evidence is clear that the Vikings offense runs at a different gear when Peterson is getting the ball and running effectively.
Although Peterson and Turner will never be on the field at the same time, their battle to keep the other as a spectator on the sidelines will likely be the key to deciding who wins and who loses this critical game that could win the Vikings a division title or help cement a playoff spot for the Falcons. The numbers speak for themselves. If both players have an "average" day – 113 yards for Peterson, 102 yards for Turner – something will have to give. The success rate of their teams when they top 100 yards is pronounced (13-1 in the last seven 100-yard games for each), making this a battle both defenses will have to deal with all day long.
Matchup to watch: Peterson vs. Turner
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