GREEN BAY, Wis. — There wasn’t much that the Packers were able to do in the regular season to stop Adrian Peterson. The Minnesota Vikings’ star running back totaled 409 yards in two games, making Green Bay’s defense look helpless on many of his breakout runs.
Instead of enjoying a restful bye week and watching as four playoff teams get eliminated on wild-card weekend, the Packers — after losing to the Vikings in Week 17 — now have to face Peterson again.
Despite Peterson’s success against Green Bay, there is plenty of confidence in the Packers’ locker room that they can shut him down this time.
“We feel that we can stop him,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “Obviously, it’s a tough task, a tough task ahead. It has to be different. That’s why we think it’s going to be different; because it has to be different. We have to come out and win this game and stop him. We’re going to focus on that.”
Peterson had a career-high 34 rushing attempts in Sunday’s win over Green Bay, a victory that gave Minnesota a berth in the postseason. Peterson’s 199 rushing yards in that game left him nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season NFL record.
Peterson was even better in the first meeting with the Packers this season, when he ran for 210 yards on just 21 carries (10.0 average) Dec. 2 at Lambeau Field.
“He had less yardage (on Dec. 30) and they won, so it really doesn’t matter (how many yards Peterson gets),” Williams said. “We just want to find a way to win the game, whatever it is. Everyone just has to do their job, maybe hold their leverage just a little bit longer and I think we’ll be all right.
“I think we did some good things this game. It was just those plays like that, guys getting out of their gap a little too quick, and he just has the explosiveness to just get out there. That’s about it.”
It will be easier said than done to prevent Peterson from once again controlling the game. One aspect that could help change Peterson’s impact, though, is if the Packers get out to an early lead. Last weekend, the Vikings led, 13-0, and ran the ball as often as they wished.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was so impressed after watching Peterson that he seemed ready to hand over his title as the league’s Most Valuable Player.
“I just told him after the game that he’s the best,” Rodgers said Sunday. “He’s incredible to watch. Obviously, you don’t like playing against him, but he’s had a great season. He probably might have won the MVP today, and hopefully we can win the playoff game.”
Even with Peterson’s nearly record-setting game, Green Bay’s defensive performance in trying to stop him wasn’t all bad. Of Peterson’s 34 carries, 10 of them resulted in negative yards or no gain. However, that also means that Peterson gained 200-plus yards in his other 24 rushing attempts.
“The effort was there,” Packers safety Morgan Burnett said. “You can see it on film; 11 guys trying to get to the ball. But now we have to take it to another level with guys holding their leverage, not being nosy and just trusting that the next guy will be there to help you.”
The defensive emphasis this week for the Packers has been about leverage, not overpursuing and avoiding such a high number of missed tackles.
“People have a tendency, and we probably did some of that on Sunday, to overplay the runner,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s important for us to focus on playing run defense. That’s something I kind of felt that during the game, and the film definitely illustrates that. (Peterson) had a fine performance statistically, and the film speaks for itself. He’s had a great year. But we’re really just focused on run defense and doing things the right way.”
But apparently, focusing on run defense does not simply mean focusing on Peterson despite his accounting for 80 percent of the Vikings’ rushing yards this season.
“Our main focus, like Coach addressed to us today, is not just about focusing on Adrian Peterson,” Burnett said. “You have to focus on stopping the run, period. They have other playmakers on their team. Go back to holding our leverage, and if we go with that approach, we should be fine.”
The Packers will also have to be wary of showing any signs of fatigue on the field, as Peterson knows that’s when he has a defense worn down.
“I see those hands go down to the waist, I see slow body movement, and you can see it in their eyes,” Peterson said in a Tuesday teleconference. “That’s one thing I like doing is sitting back there in the huddle just looking across at the defense and looking in their eyes just to see where they’re at because you can get a good feel emotionally where somebody stands throughout the game by looking them in the eyes and checking them out.”
Peterson is preparing for his first playoff game since 2009, but he’s also looking ahead to next season and the possibility of breaking Dickerson’s rushing record of 2,108 yards.
“My goal won’t be to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season record; It’s going to be trying to get 2,400, 2,500 yards,” Peterson said. “That’s just how I look at things. With me setting it that high, then, obviously, breaking his record will happen.”