At one time, Sunday's matchup between the Tennessee Titans and the Minnesota Vikings could boast the top two running backs in the NFL. Today, Arian Foster, Ray Rice or Maurice Jones-Drew might have something to say about that.
Peterson has the most rushing yards of any running back since joining the league in 2007 with 7,084 yards, while Johnson has the most since 2008 with 5,831 yards when he entered the league with the Titans. They also have rushed for the top two single-season totals since 2007. Peterson led the league with 1,760 yards in 2008, and Johnson in 2009 with 2,006 yards, becoming only the sixth player to exceed 2,000 yards in a season.
The problem for both has been since leading the league in rushing yards, their totals have decreased every year.
Both Johnson and Peterson had their worst seasons in 2011.
In 2011, after holding out and missing all of training camp and the preseason, Johnson joined the Titans on September 1st after agreeing to a contract extension that made him the highest paid running back in the NFL. The investment didn't reap the same results as Johnson only exceeded the century mark in rushing four times, and averaged 65.4 yards per game.
For Peterson, injuries limited his role in 2011. A high ankle sprain suffered in Week 11 against the Raiders caused him to miss three games. A devastating knee injury in Week 16 ended his season. While he finished with only 970 yards, his average of 80.8 yards per game was still better than Johnson's.
Both running backs are looking to rebound in 2012.
On paper, Johnson should have the edge.
Coming off reconstructive knee surgery in January, Peterson achieved his goal of making it back to start Week 1. Despite being held out of the entire preseason, he is averaging 4.2 yards per carry and 83.0 yards per game. He had his best game of the season last week against the Lions with 102 yards on 21 carries.
Against the Texans in Week 4, Johnson also had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season, finishing with 141 yards on 25 carries against the overall top-ranked defense.
So who's better?
No doubt that it is Peterson. His attitude, work ethic and commitment have him currently ranked 10th in the league with 332 rushing yards—something unheard of after the kind of injury he had.
Peterson is also more of a force in the red zone. He has 66 touchdowns in his career, averaging 13 per season while Johnson has averaged 10 touchdowns per year.
Despite his breakout performance against the Texans, Johnson lays the blame on his offensive line for his slow start. Jim Wyatt from the Tennessean, reports that Johnson stated that he is only as good as the offensive line lets him be.
While Peterson had plenty of opportunities to criticize his line from last season, he never made any excuses.
It will be fun to watch these two backs face off on Sunday. Look for Peterson to have the bigger impact in the game.