Dec 16, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) breaks away from St. Louis Rams strong safety Craig Dahl (43) during the first half at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
1. The Unstoppable Force
Player A: 14 games played, 289 carries, 1812 yards, 6.3 yards/carry, 11 touchdowns.
Player B: 16 games played, 379 carries, 2105 yards, 5.6 yards/carry, 14 touchdowns.
Player A’s statline belongs to Adrian Peterson so far this season; while player B’s were the numbers Hall Of Fame RB Eric Dickerson managed to put up in his historic 1984 campaign with the Los Angeles Rams, when he set an NFL record for rushing yards in a single season.
It was worth pointing out that around this time a year ago, Nov. 24, 2011 to be exact, Peterson tore both his ACL and MCL on his left knee during a Vikings victory over the Redskins. One year removed from such a serious injury, most athletes might still be on rehabilitation. That’s certainly not the case for the man they call All-Day, as he made undeniably the most impressive comeback after an ACL tear in the history of the NFL. History has shown that ACL injuries usually led to a huge downturn in terms of performance for any position, let alone one that relies so much on knee strength as RB. Look no further than Rashad Mendenhall, who used to be the Steelers’ workhorse RB before tearing his ACL on New Year’s Day this year. Upon returning, Mendenhall had one good game against the Eagles in October but was otherwise ineffective and subsequently reduced to third-string duties. Being able to return from such a gruesome injury this early was impressive enough, but the fact that Peterson is now on track to break an all-time NFL record (293 yards away with two games to play) is another testament to this once-in-a-generation type of RB.
Much has been said about the maturity of second-year QB Christian Ponder this season. However, Ponder is not the type of difference-maker QB but is rather more suited for a game manager role. The heart and soul of the Vikings offense remains No. 28; and the Bulls on Parade should expect the same this coming Sunday.
Dec 16, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) celebrates sacking Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (not pictured) during the fourth quarter at Reliant Stadium. The Texans won 29-17. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
2. The Immovable Object
Okay, maybe “immovable object” was a bit too strong. But the truth is so far this season, while the Texans’ pass defense has left a lot to be desired, their run defense has been very effective. In terms of raw numbers, the Texans are allowing 93.2 yards/game (5th in the NFL) and just 3 TD runs (1st). But the most telling statistics of all is that 14 weeks into the season, the longest run that Wade Phillips’ unit has allowed went for a mere 28 yards(!). Additionally, only two opposing RBs so far this season have been able to crack the 100-yard mark on the ground against the Bulls on Parade (Chris Johnson in Week 4 and Vick Ballard last week). Granted, more than half of CJ’s yardage came after the Texans were up by three scores and playing with their backups.
While the Texans’ defense can be run on during certain stretches of a game (3rd quarter against the Colts being the most recent example), they have definitely shown the ability to toughen up in the red zone as well as limiting the big plays on the ground. Both are staples of a stout run defense that will figure to stand in the way between AP and history.
3. The HB Draw
This will be a critical play that could determine the outcome of this strength vs. strength matchup and possibly the whole game. Let’s take a look at a HB draw play that the Vikings ran last week against the Rams.
It’s 1st & 10 on the Vikings 18. Minnesota set up in the I-formation while the Rams stacked the box with eight defenders (four down linemen, three linebackers, one safety). TE Kyle Rudolph motioned to the right before the snap, at which the Rams blitzed six, including the safety. Ponder dropped back four steps, faking the throw before handing off to Peterson. At this point, the well-executed draw was clearly going to result in a positive gain for the Vikings, as three Rams defenders on the strong side were caught going for the sack and no longer in a position to make a play. Meanwhile at the second level, Rudolph, fullback Jerome Felton, and right guard Geoff Schwartz successfully took out the three Rams linebackers, creating a huge lane for Peterson on the left side. The only player who could stop AP from sprinting to the endzone was Rams’ safety Craig Dahl. However, Dahl took a horrible angle, allowing Peterson to make just a simple cutback to the outside before taking it all the way for a 82-yard touchdown, longest of his career.
It’s no secret that the essence of Wade Phillips’ defense is going after the QB. He’s never afraid to send five or six rushers in any given situation. Against the Vikings, however, he might need to make some adjustments. The Texans’ current group of inside linebackers, with the exception of Tim Dobbins, have not been playing well against the run this season, as Bradie James(-1.4), and Darryl Sharpton(-1.3) and Barreth Ruud(-2.0) all registered negative grades in run defense according to ProFootballFocus. The linemen and outside linebackers, on the other hand, have been the reason why the Texans ranked that high in run defense despite poor linebacking play. If Wade Phillips had seen tapes of this Vikings @ Rams game, he surely would be very hesitant to send his speedy OLBs after the QB on non-obvious passing situations in danger of leaving the ILBs exposed to a draw play. Safeties Glover Quin (+2.0) and Danieal Manning (+2.1) have fared very well against the run, but trusting them to make one-on-one open-field tackles on someone like Adrian Peterson might be asking a little too much.
Should be a fun matchup to watch for this weekend.
Statistics courtesy of NFL.com and ProFootballFocus.com