During the first two weeks of the 2011 regular season the Detroit Lions have needed to focus a lot of attention on their opponent’s running game.
In Week One, the Lions faced Tampa Bay’s bruising back, LeGarrette Blount. Week Two offered a new challenge, 2010’s top rated rushing team – the Kansas City Chiefs – featuring speedster Jamal Charles.
Week Three won’t get any easier.
The Lions will travel to Minneapolis to face the Minnesota Vikings this weekend, a divisional foe who house one of the game’s most talented players – running back Adrian Peterson.
If Blount was a challenge due to his size and power and Charles was a problem due to his speed and agility, Peterson is a nightmare.
“He’s an extremely talented player, explosive, fast and good around the edges," according to linebacker Stephen Tulloch. “I’ve never really seen anything like it. He’s a very rare talent. Every play he gets full speed. He never takes a play off.”
While many top backs blend speed and power, Peterson is in a class of his own. He has the size and strength (6-1, 217 pounds) to break tackles with ease and move a pile as well as the speed and nimbleness to dodge would-be tacklers and threaten a homerun at any moment.
Lions fans are far too familiar with Peterson’s world-class talents. The fifth-year pro has victimized the Lions on numerous occasions.
In eight career games, Peterson has rushed for 814 yards – at 5.4 yards per carry – and seven touchdowns against the Lions.
The Lions finally had some success in stopping him during their last meeting with the Vikings.
To close the 2010 regular season, the Vikings traveled to Ford Field for a final matchup with the Lions. In that contest, the Lions held Peterson to 31 rushing yards on 14 carriers with no scores.
Could their recent success against the dynamic runner provide the frame work for success this weekend?
“When you have a great player like that,” said head coach Jim Schwartz. “There really is no blueprint, you just have to tackle well and you have to get guys to the football and play as a team and all those different things. It’s not like there’s a magic bullet to take him out.”
Solid tackling is essential to minimizing the damage from Peterson. Expect the Lions to keep a safety near the line of scrimmage for the majority of the game in an effort to contain the 26-year old.
This won’t be a surprise to Peterson.
“He’s used to teams stacking the box to try to take him away,” said Schwartz. “But a sign of a good back is you can still gain yards, even versus eight man fronts and that’s (the) kind of back he is. “
Another prerequisite to preventing Peterson from running wild is discipline.
The Vikings run counters and misdirection plays to bait opponents into over pursuit. That is something the Chiefs ran -– with some success -– against the Lions last week.
“We had a couple plays early where we missed gaps against (the Chiefs)” said linebacker Justin Durant. “Minnesota already runs some of that stuff. They probably are going to scheme us up a little more. That’s something that is already part of their game so we just have to stick to our game plan.”
Gap responsibility and accountability will be crucial for the Lions this Sunday. A blown assignment could result in a big play.
Also, there is a way the Lions offense can help slow Peterson: build a lead and force the Vikings out of their game plan.
“If we can get points up on them early,” said Tulloch. “(We can) force them to be one dimensional.”