How San Francisco 49ers Will Shut Down Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings aren't expected to threaten San Francisco's undefeated record, but their one true strength is a powerful running game that just can't be overlooked.
It all starts with All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson.
Peterson recovered from a devastating knee injury as if it was a measly thigh bruise, not only surprising everyone by playing in the season opener, but rumbling for two touchdowns, as well. And while the 49ers' defensive unit possesses both the athleticism and discipline to shut down AP, there's still no denying that the superstar is truly a rare breed.
In addition to Peterson, Minnesota has a pretty solid insurance plan in backup RB Toby Gerhart, and you can expect a solid dose of the former Stanford star on Sunday. Don't be surprised to see the Vikings utilize Percy Harvin's unmistakable speed out of the backfield, as well.
Let's see how Minnesota will try to attack the 49ers in the run game and what San Francisco's D will do to shut it down.
Understanding How AP Can Beat You Is Key
Several dominant running backs make their living in today's NFL, but none of them are quite like Adrian Peterson.
He possesses that rare blend of speed and power—the ability to either run around you or through you. The 49ers happen to be the surest tackling team in the NFL, but you can bet they're not taking this challenge lightly.
Time and time again we've seen Peterson make something out of nothing, bouncing a run outside and turning a broken play into a five-yard gain—or more.
When a member of the 49ers defense hits someone, that someone rarely falls forward. When Peterson lowers his shoulder and makes contact, he rarely goes backwards.
The 49ers' disciplined, smash-mouth brand of football bodes well for thwarting this powerful rushing attack, but they'd better pack their usual punch again on Sunday, or they could fall into trouble early on.
Neutralizing the Lead Blocker
Fullback Jerome Felton played a crucial role in Peterson's big Week-1 performance, and AP will need him at his best on Sunday, too.
If you see Felton in the game (he's played 57 of the Vikings' 129 offensive snaps this year, according to Pro Football Focus), it's likely a run—and you can bet he'll be leading the way for his RB.
The 6'0", 248-pound Felton isn't the best fullback in the league, but he packs a punch when he's got some momentum. He'll likely be attempting to clear standout linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis out of the way, so the Vikings' lead blocker is probably in for a rough afternoon.
Set the Edge and Do Not Overpursue
We found out last season that OLB Aldon Smith can terrorize the QB with consistency, but there were concerns as to whether he could match that high level of effectiveness while playing the run.
Through two games as the full-time starter, he's proven he can do exactly that.
Aldon's job, as well as that of Ahmad Brooks on the other side, is to set the edge on the outside and turn the ball-carrier inside for Willis and Bowman to blow them up at the line of scrimmage.
What they can't do, is get too deep into the backfield and allow Peterson, or any Vikings ball-carrier, to exploit that mistake. Peterson didn't put up huge numbers against the Colts in Week 2. Still, there were too many times that Indianapolis OLB Jerry Hughes found himself out of position and unable to make a play.
Notice No. 92 (Hughes) in the picture above. His job is to help form a wall next to No. 94 to keep Peterson from bouncing it outside. Instead he bit on the QB and found himself six yards deep in the backfield while Peterson exploited the vacancy for a nice gain.
It's particularly important that Aldon Smith continues to show discipline in run defense and consistently force AP and the other ball-carriers back into the teeth of the 49ers D.
Going by what we've seen so far, that doesn't look to be an issue on Sunday.
Also, expect to see more of San Francisco nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, as well. He doesn't see the field in nickel or dime packages, which the 49ers used heavily in their first two games of the year. But "Soap" will be needed often this week to add some beef to the interior of the D-line.
The Percy Harvin Factor
The Vikings have another coveted weapon in Harvin, and they love finding unique ways to utilize his talents.
That includes using him out of the backfield in traditional rushing packages, like the one seen above.
Here, Harvin is lined up directly behind the lead blocker, Felton. This is a designed pitch play to the left, in which Felton and a pulling guard will set up a convoy for Harvin to follow.
Against the Colts, this play worked for a 20-yard gain. But both Bowman and Willis have top-end speed and the ability to hunt down the ball-carrier before the blockers can make contact.
As a whole, the Vikings do not have many ways to strike fear in their opponents. But they'll look to impose their will on the 49ers defense with a powerful run game, so it's imperative they take proper action to keep it from gaining steam.
This is the 49ers defense we're talking about, however, with a front seven capable of swallowing the most potent ground attacks the NFL can offer.
If the 49ers coaching staff continues to game plan masterfully, and the defense plays the same physical, disciplined type of football we've been seeing, Minnesota will then be forced to rely on Ponder's inexperienced arm to try to keep pace.
After seeing how well that worked for the Packers and Lions offenses, leaning mostly on Ponder wouldn't bode well for the home team this Sunday.
All screenshots used in this article courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @B_Burnett49er
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