The good news for the Packers three weeks ago was that 21 of Adrian Peterson’s carries gained just 67 yards.
The bad news was the other three carries accounted for 108 yards.
Peterson’s 175-yard day at the Metrodome in Week 7 was typical of the way the hard-charging running back pounds away, down after down, until he breaks loose. The approach at times can produce big gains in bunches.
His runs of 29, 25 and 54 yards against the Packers came in a span of seven carries beginning at the end of the second quarter and into the second half, with two of the long runs setting up Minnesota field goals in the Packers’ narrow 33-27 victory.
“Eliminate those three big plays and we would have had a successful day against him,” outside linebacker Clay Matthews said.
That’s easier said than done, of course, as the rematch looms on Monday night at Lambeau Field. Peterson’s combination of power and speed gives him the ability to make something out of nothing, and he ranks fourth in the league with 798 yards rushing. He’s also tied for first with nine rushing touchdowns.
To the Packers’ credit, they buckled down after the third long run and held Peterson to three yards or less on six of his final seven carries in the game, but it’s the constant threat of a breakaway that forces a defense to never lapse when Peterson gets his hands on the ball.
“You know this guy is going to break a few tackles in a game, but you don’t want an 8- or 9-yarder to turn into a 59, 69-yarder,” B.J. Raji said. “It behooves you as a defensive lineman once the ball is declared to get hustling, because you might see a couple jerseys behind him, or around him, but he can get around that, and you want to help out.”
Over 45 total games, a Dom Capers-coordinated Green Bay defense has allowed an opposing running back to top 100 yards just six times, and Peterson has done it twice. The 175 yards in the last meeting are 34 more than any single back has gained against the Packers under Capers.
Peterson’s effort in that game prevented the Vikings from having to rely solely on rookie quarterback Christian Ponder to keep up with the Packers. A strong running game is any quarterback’s best friend, especially a young quarterback, and Ponder is getting Peterson more involved in the passing game, too. Against Carolina in Week 9, Peterson caught five passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.
Against the Packers, Ponder was impressive in his own right, however, even with unspectacular statistics (13 of 32, 219 yards, two TDs, two INTs). The Packers felt they threw a lot of different defensive looks at him in his first NFL start, many to no avail.
“He was poised,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “He didn’t get rattled easy. When we were blitzing him, he didn’t get happy feet. He held onto the ball, threw the ball. The kid was a cool kid in the pocket.”
The Vikings are counting on that poise to handle the Lambeau atmosphere and potentially give new head coach Leslie Frazier a signature win. Frazier talked this week about his 2-6 team being motivated to hand the 8-0 Packers their first loss.
Minnesota also is trying to break out of its franchise’s prime-time funk. The Vikings have lost eight of their last 10 prime-time games, including four of their last five on Monday night.
That one win was against the Packers at the Metrodome in 2009, part of Green Bay’s recent run of Monday night troubles. The Packers have lost four of their last five on Monday night, as well, dating back to the New Orleans defeat in November 2008.
Since the ’09 Monday night loss in Minnesota, though, the Packers are 6-2 overall in prime time, including the playoff win in Atlanta last January.
Of more immediate concern is that the Packers are beginning a jam-packed stretch of three games in 11 days, culminating with the road trip to Detroit for Thanksgiving.
Back in 2009, the last time the Packers played on Thanksgiving, they had three games in 12 days and won them all to thrust themselves into the playoff picture. It was as though they snuck up on the league during that stretch, having lost to previously winless Tampa Bay to fall to 4-4 just prior to the three-game run.
There’s nothing sneaky about the Packers this time around, obviously. Their undefeated record has everyone watching them with keenly trained eyes.
“We know how important this is going to be to our final record and the way we finish up this season,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “You pray for health, that we come out of these three games healthy, and you also want to win all three of them. A tough stretch, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
For more Packers-Vikings stories from the past week, click here.