Vikings vs. Packers: How Green Bay Can Slow Down Adrian Peterson
After allowing 409 of Adrian Peterson's 2,097 rushing yards this season, the Green Bay Packers get the unenviable opportunity to face the Minnesota Vikings running back a third time in Saturday's NFC Wild Card.
While stopping Peterson appears out of the question—the Packers gave up 210 in the first meeting, and 199 in the second—Green Bay has to find ways to keep the game's best running back from approaching the 200-yard mark in order to avenge Week 17's 37-34 loss in Minnesota.
The film of Sunday's performance might just provide some clues on which areas the Packers need to clean up for Saturday.
Below, we'll take a look at some screenshots from NFL Game Rewind to help highlight where Green Bay has to get better against Peterson.
Run Stopping 101: Tackle at the Second Level
In most situations where a run defense allows almost 200 yards to a running back, the assumption can be made that the defensive line—or the first line of defense against the run—didn't play well. That wasn't the case Sunday in Minnesota.
If there is one reason why Green Bay was gashed by Peterson, it was the Packers' inability to get the Vikings running back on the ground at the second level. Tackling by the linebackers and secondary was mostly atrocious.
A glaring example of this came midway through the first quarter.
In the following screenshot, we see a 2nd-and-5 play that features Peterson getting the football on a simple run off right tackle. The Packers don't play the look poorly; in fact, linebacker A.J. Hawk (50) sets the edge on tight end Kyle Rudolph, pushing Peterson inside to the help.
At the second level, Tramon Williams (38) and Brad Jones (59) are in position with the fullback leading through the hole.
The fullback chooses Williams to kick out, leaving Jones—a middle linebacker—to make a one-on-one tackle of Peterson in space.
While a mismatch, the Packers will expect a starting player on their defense to make a better effort on getting Peterson to the ground. Jones goes in way too high on Peterson (as the above screen grab shows), and his tackle attempt is easily shrugged off as the Vikings get 22 yards on a play that should have gained three to four.
In two meetings this season, the Packers allowed Peterson to gain a whopping 230 yards after first contact (via ESPN's Stats and Info). Tackling at the second level was the primary reason why.
Run Stopping 101: Keeping Contain
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters Tuesday that he thought his run defense "overplayed the runner" Sunday. We get one example of that happening here.
In the below screen grab, the Packers get immediate interior pressure against an inside run to Peterson. B.J. Raji (90) has penetrated into the backfield, while Clay Matthews (52) and Morgan Burnett (42) are in position to make a play on Peterson off Raji's penetration. The Vikings have just two blockers leading Peterson, who is just receiving the handoff in this screenshot.
Burnett is in perfect position to make a tackle for a loss. With no blocker assigned to him, Burnett should be able to break down and plant Peterson on the turf behind the line of scrimmage. It doesn't happen.
Burnett overpursues the action, losing his angle on Peterson and missing the tackle. There was nothing fancy or powerful done by Peterson. Worse yet, the rest of the defense is about to lose contain outside.
With Burnett on the ground, and Hawk out of position in pursuit, the Packers have little chance to flow Peterson back to the help. Erik Walden is easily screened off outside by Phil Loadholt (71), while Jones is working off the block of right guard Brandon Fusco (63) and unable to get to the outside to slow Peterson.
The result is a familiar one: Peterson, who should be dropped for negative yardage, rumbles for 18 yards down to the Green Bay 8-yard line.
Instead of 2nd-and-12, the Vikings get a goal-to-go situation, which is converted into a touchdown on the next play. Maybe containing Peterson on the play before becomes the difference between three points and seven.
However, contain has been a problem for Green Bay all season. According to ESPN's Stats and Info, the Packers allowed Peterson an average of 13.7 yards per carry on attempts outside the tackle in 2012. Overall this season, Green Bay has allowed 7.0 yards per carry in those situations—the second worst in the NFL.
Run Stopping 101: The Numbers Game
Nearly every time the Vikings went to a run formation Sunday, the Packers followed a motion man to the strong side by bringing a safety into the box. On the game's decisive play, however, Green Bay was outmanned at the point of attack because it didn't follow this previous strategy.
On 2nd-and-10 with 24 seconds left, the Vikings motion Rudolph from the right of the formation (where Green Bay has a safety in the box) to the left. This upsets Green Bay's defensive balance, but there's no shift to the motion. Jerron McMillian, the safety to the offense's right side, stays in the box, while no safety to the strong side comes up to match Rudolph's motion.
As the screen grab shows, the Packers don't have enough players on the defense's right side to counter the Vikings' obvious run look. Five on four is big trouble.
As Peterson takes the handoff, the obvious happens: Five blockers open up a sizable crease against just four defenders.
Average running backs can take advantage of such an opportunity. Great ones—like Peterson—turn these into game-winning plays. The Vikings get just that, as Peterson exploded through the hole for 26 yards to Green Bay's 11-yard line.
A play later, Blair Walsh's 29-yard kick split the uprights as time ran out. Maybe if the Packers had figured out the numbers game on the decisive play from Peterson, Walsh's game-winning kick wouldn't have been such a chip shot.
Expecting the Packers to stop Peterson Saturday simply isn't smart if you study the two meetings between these two teams this season.
Perfect tackling isn't suddenly going to happen against Peterson, especially in the cold conditions expected Saturday. Contain on the outside has been an issue for Green Bay all season. And there is going to be times when an offense calls the perfect play against an overmatched defensive look.
But for Green Bay to escape the Wild Card Round Saturday, these three problem areas have to see incremental improvements. Double-digit missed tackles is unacceptable, and letting any running back—Peterson or otherwise—average almost 14 yards a carry outside is a formula for getting beat.
If the Packers can cut the missed tackles in half and keep Peterson inside for a higher percentage of his carries, Green Bay can keep the Vikings from marching up and down the field via the run. More than likely, keeping Peterson under 150 yards is a winning script for the Packers Saturday.
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