ST. LOUIS – Rams coach Jeff Fisher has painful memories from the last time he attempted a game plan to slow Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
“I feel the same way now as I did then,” Fisher said. “I don’t forget that week at all. It’s not easy.”
The NFL’s leading rusher comes to town Sunday when the 6-6-1 Rams hope to slow down the explosive Peterson and keep their playoff hopes alive. The Rams must win their final three games and get some help if they want to somehow sneak into the playoffs.
And they’ve got no chance if they can’t find a way to limit the damage of the Vikings All-Pro running back. Peterson has rushed for 1,600 yards in 13 games – more than 23 teams and 334 yards ahead of the next highest individual, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch.
He’s rushed for at least 100 yards in seven straight games, a Vikings record, and has averaged 157.3 per game during that span. He had 104 yards in the first quarter alone Sunday against the Chicago Bears, 51 coming on an impressive run on the first play of the game.
“What he’s done, specifically just the last five weeks is just off the charts,” Fisher said. “He’s got a touchdown run in each of the last five weeks of 51 yards or more against good defenses, 200 yards rushing against Seattle – or something like that. You don’t see anybody like him.
“It’s going to be more than a challenge for us. We had a big challenge with the Niners, had a big challenge last week. Only had 20 carries against San Francisco and 17 from the backs last week. This one’s going to be a little different. Our key to defending Adrian Peterson is keeping Sam (Bradford) under center. I mean, that’s the only chance you’ve got. You’ve got to keep him on the bench.”
Peterson is on pace for 1,969 rushing yards, which would be good for seventh best single season total in NFL history. But that doesn’t appear good enough for him.
The former Oklahoma Sooner hopes to not only become the seventh player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. He wants to break Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson’s NFL record of 2,105 yards set back in 1984.
Peterson would need to average 168.7 yards in each of the Vikings final three games of the season to reach 2,106 yards for the season. He’s rushed for at least 171 yards in three of the last five games and at least 150 yards in five of the last seven games.
“It would mean a lot,” Peterson said of breaking Dickerson’s record. “I can tell you that because that’s a landmark. It’s been there for a long time and as a running back, you definitely want to break all the records. That’s how I look at it. It would mean a lot to me, but first things first, I’d rather get in the playoffs first than break any records. It feels good to be in a position to even go after it.”
With Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder struggling and wide receiver Percy Harvin out with an ankle injury, the Minnesota offensive attack has become one dimensional. And that makes Peterson’s recent stretch that much more impressive. Teams know he’s getting the ball yet they still can’t stop him.
Peterson had a season-high 31 carries Sunday against the Bears, and he figures to get a heavy load again Sunday. He has 18 runs of at least 20 yards, the most in the NFL.
And making his season even more impressive is the fact that he returned less than nine months after tearing both his ACL and MCL in his left knee on Christmas eve in Washington last season.
“Ordinarily with that injury it’s going to take a while, and even if you come back that next season, you’re probably not going to be the player that you were the year before the injury,” said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier. “But Adrian has been amazing from the time he started the game against Jacksonville and throughout the season. He’s just gotten better and better.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who thought, going into the season, that we’d be talking about Adrian with 1,600 yards, leading the league in rushing, MVP candidate, Comeback Player of the Year candidate. It’s just mind-boggling in a lot of ways. A lot of credit to Adrian — his hard work, his determination. What our training staff did, (Head Athletic Trainer) Eric Sugarman and his guys. Just an amazing story.”
But the Rams defense has been no slouch of late, particularly against the run. The Rams have the sixth best rush defense in the NFC and 13th best in the NFL, allowing an average of 110.3 rushing yards per game.
They’ve held opposing teams below 100 yards rushing six times, including just 61 yards rushing Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, who entered the game with one of the best ground attacks in the NFL.
The Miami Dolphins and talented running back Reggie Bush had just 36 rushing yards against the Rams earlier this season while Arizona had just 74 rushing yards in a Rams win three weeks ago.
Even for a good rush defense such as the Rams, containing Peterson figures to be a tough task. They won’t completely shut him down. They just hope to limit him.
“This is a different animal completely,” Fisher said. “He’s a violent runner and he’s hard to bring down. Rarely do DBs get him down one-on-one and when they do, he pats them on the back of the helmet and says congratulations. He’s fun to watch as long as you’re not preparing for him.
“It’s a huge challenge. He’s a different type of back. He was possessed against the Bears. Very, very explosive. It’s not an easy task to get him down one-on-one or any place on the field. We’ll find out. I would like to say that I think our defense, against the run, is good enough to win with. But, with Adrian Peterson and that offense, they do that to everybody week-in and week-out. We’re going to have to play well.”