Are the Green Bay Packers Prepared to Contain Adrian Peterson?

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IOctober 26, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 30: Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings carries the ball during the third quarter of the game against the Green Bay Packers on December 30, 2012 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Packers 37-34. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Since entering the NFL in 2007, Adrian Peterson has rarely found a competent match in the Green Bay Packers defense. 

In fact, four of Peterson's nine highest single-game rushing totals have come against the Packers, and only three rushers in NFL history have more career yards versus Green Bay than Peterson's 1,541. 

On Sunday night, Peterson may encounter a Packers defense as prepared to contain him as any other before. 

A year after giving up 508 rushing yards in just three games to Peterson, the Packers defense will enter its Week 8 matchup with Minnesota sporting the NFL's third-best run defense in both yards allowed per game (79.0) and yards per carry (3.4).

Instead of getting pushed around, the Packers are doing the pushing in 2013.

Only once this season has a team or individual rusher gone over 100 yards (Washington Redskins, Alfred Morris), and the Packers are allowing just 64.7 rushing yards over the last three games—all Green Bay wins. 

Best NFL Run Defenses Since Week 4
Rushing Yards/Game
1. Packers69.0
2. Panthers72.0
3. Seahawks81.4
Source: Packers Dope Sheet

The result has been the best Packers run defense since Peterson entered the league, which includes the 2009 team. Despite leading the NFL in run defense, the '09 defense still can't match Green Bay's current pace (79.0 in '13, 83.3 in '09). 

Peterson, an MVP running back in 2012, also hasn't been as dominant this season. 

That isn't to say Peterson has been ineffective. The 28-year-old is still seventh overall in rushing (511 yards) and second in yards per game (85.3), and his first six games actually trump his first six from last season's near-record finish. 

Still, Peterson is averaging just 4.4 yards per carry—down 1.6 yards from 2012—and his 16-game pace would only put him at 1,363 yards, or more than 700 off his 2,097-yard campaign. 

Peterson has also been dealing with nagging tightness in his hamstring, a problem that he felt slowed him down during Minnesota's 23-7 loss the New York Giants Monday night. 

"I feel like it was definitely hurting a little bit. I feel like it was more in my mind," Peterson said, via Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "It's strange to say that, but I think I was kind of holding myself back, not being able to stretch out and really run."

Against the Giants, Peterson ran 13 times for 28 yards—his sixth-lowest rushing output of his 95-game NFL career. 

Limited during Wednesday's practice but back to full participation on Thursday and Friday, Peterson was confident that the issue is behind him and that his best running days are now ahead. 

Adrian Peterson's Top Rushing Games, Career
YearOpponentRushing Yards
Source: Pro Football Reference

The Packers certainly aren't resting in their preparation for Peterson, who gashed Green Bay for 210 at Lambeau Field and then 199 at the Metrodome in Week 17 last season.

"Adrian Peterson is an outstanding player, obviously," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. "I kind of felt that first game last year got away from us. The second game over there, we kind of overpursued some."

Peterson averaged a stunning 10 yards per carry in the first meeting. Among his 21 carries was an 82-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter that gave the Vikings a lead.

Peterson then ended his MVP season with a 199-yard effort in a win-and-you're-in matchup with the Packers in Week 17. The performance was more workmanlike than the first meeting, as Peterson carried 34 times and kept chipping away at a crumbling Packers front. He ended just a few yards short of Eric Dickerson's all-time single season rushing record. 

McCarthy knows how dangerous Peterson can be if the down-in and down-out technique against him isn't correct. 

"When you're not right, he can accelerate the crease, and he has the breakaway speed to finish the run," McCarthy said. "We have to play square, our gap control has to be intact and we have to be aggressive."

The Packers have already been well-tested against some of the game's best backs.

Sep 8, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) falls short of the goal line against the Green Bay Packers during the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Green Bay Packers 34-28. M

San Francisco's Frank Gore managed just 44 yards on 21 carries in Week 1. Reggie Bush later gave Detroit only 44 yards on 13 carries, and Baltimore's Ray Rice was held to 34 on 13. Altogether, the three averaged 40.7 yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry against the Packers. 

A stout front has been a big reason why opposing running games have faltered. With three 300-pounders—B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly—anchoring the three-man front in base defense, Green Bay's linebackers have been free to sit in their gaps and make plays without fighting off blockers. The entire front seven has worked in unison to allow just 12 runs of over 10 yards in 2013, the fifth-best mark in the NFL. 

Sunday night in Minnesota will now be the ultimate measuring stick for a defense that has put the lid on running games all season long. The Vikings will be inclined to feed Peterson early and often, regardless of who is playing quarterback.

And if Peterson is kept in check, the Packers can feel very confident in leaving the Metrodome with a win. 

Since 2009, the Packers are 43-11 when giving up less than 124 total rushing yards in a game. When the number goes up to 125 or more, Green Bay is just 8-8. 

No defense wants to come into a game against Adrian Peterson with a sense of overconfidence. Few players in the NFL can turn a game in an instant like the Vikings running back, and he figures to get a number of chances to make his impact.

However, the Packers now appear as ready to keep Peterson down as ever before. A run defense that is rolling can prove its status among the NFL's elite with a shutdown performance against the game's best back Sunday night. 


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