Currently holding an 8-6 record, Minnesota controls its own destiny for an NFC Wild Card spot.
The tough part, though, are the next two games against the Houston Texans (away) and the Green Bay Packers. Considering Peterson continues to close in on Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record and each defense will stack the box to isolate pro football's best running back.
So, how can Peterson get Minnesota back into the postseason? Well, let's look at each opponent to find out.
Week 16, at Houston Texans
The Texans rank No. 5 in rush defense and allow only 93 rushing yards per contest.
Houston also gives up an average of 4.1 yards per carry and have defended only 315 rushing attempts on the season. That is the least number of rushes attempted against any defense thus far in 2012.
"We have to bring out our big-boy pants,” nose tackle Shaun Cody said.
"We haven’t played too well against the run in the last two games,” Cody said. “We’ve got to strap it up. Today, they hurt us with the same play (counter with guard pulling), and we’ve got to correct it.”
Peterson, on the other hand, averages 20 attempts per contest and has been fed 21-plus times in four of Minnesota's previous five games. Obviously the Texans can be expected to load up in the box and play man coverage behind.
Christian Ponder and Minnesota's passing game only sees marginal production even after Peterson rolls. And Houston's pass defense isn't so horrendous that Ponder will dice the Texans in similar fashion to Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
Here, Minnesota must simply feed Peterson early and shorten the game. The Vikings defense isn't dominant enough to completely blank the Texans offense, so reducing the impact of Arian Foster by keeping him off the field is the key.
Ponder has the arm to challenge Houston downfield and tight end Kyle Rudolph will need to make some plays over the middle. The Vikings still must heavily rely on Peterson off tackle and by attacking J.J. Watt's side.
Week 17, vs. Green Bay Packers
In the first meeting against Green Bay, Peterson rushed for 210 yards and averaged 10 yards per carry.
Now yes, 82 of those yards came on one touchdown run. Nonetheless, Minnesota still led the Packers at halftime. No matter what the playoff scenarios entering Week 17, the Vikings must use the same approach to defeat Green Bay.
The Packers allow an average of 4.5 yards per carry and rank No. 14 in rush defense. By the numbers, Green Bay is slightly easier than Houston, but the Texans don't present an outside impact player like Clay Matthews (Watt more so an interior defender by comparison).
To have success, however, Minnesota needs to attack Matthews' side in a similar manner to Watt. Failing to do so will result in fewer play-calling options, regardless of down-and-distance, and make the Vikings more predictable.
Green Bay knows Peterson will get the rock, but where must always be a concern. Factor in Ponder's mobility and the Packers occasionally being suspect in coverage will keep Green Bay honest. Not to mention, keeping Rodgers off the field and limiting his possessions is even more crucial than with Houston.
Plus, Packers' receiver Greg Jennings wants Peterson to get the record. In an interview with Dan Patrick via Mike Florio of NBC Sports:
”I want him to do it,” Jennings told Dan Patrick on Tuesday morning. “It’s impressive to see a player dominate like that. . . . It’s almost devastating if he gets that close and doesn’t get it.”
And Jennings will get what he asked for.
Minnesota lost the possession battle by 17 minutes to the Pack in Week 13, but only lost the game 23-14. Flip that stat line in the Vikings' favor by slamming with Peterson and Minnesota will find itself suiting up in January.
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