Break It Down: Adrian Peterson not getting it done alone
Through 10 games of a surprisingly successful Vikings season, Peterson leads the league in yards rushing with 1,128 and, even more remarkably considering Peterson's knee blow out last year, he's third in carries at 195.
Even scarier for Minnesota's opponents? Coach Leslie Frazier said this week what most of us have been thinking: that Peterson seems to be getting better -- read: stronger and more comfortable on his previously injured knee -- as the season progresses.
Over the Vikings' past four games, Peterson has averaged 157.3 yards on the ground and scored five touchdowns.
How is he doing it? As good as he's been, it is certainly not a one-man show. Peterson is playing at an elite level, but the Vikings' offensive line has done its best to help him. More on that in this week's "Break It Down":
Peterson's first big run Sunday during a 171-yard outing against Detroit came early in the second quarter. On a play designed to go left, Peterson instead bounced back against the grain through a huge cutback hole to his right for 15 yards.
This was not an unusual occurrence -- Peterson finds those backside lanes better than perhaps any other running back in the league, in part because the Vikings provide support from him against the flow.
On that 15-yard run, for example, the Vikings set up with two tight ends. John Carlson (No. 89) was offset on the left side of Minnesota's line; Kyle Rudolph (No. 82), a huge focus of Detroit's defense in the pass game, offset on the right.
The entire Minnesota line pushed to the left, sealing off six Detroit defenders. Rudolph broke into the flat, forcing a linebacker to follow him.
The key to the play was Carlson, who came in motion and managed to drive Detroit defensive end Cliff Avril deep into the backfield.
Another topic for another day (though it will come up at least twice more before we're done) is how vulnerable the Lions leave themselves to cutback runs. Detroit's defensive line loves to push upfield aggressively, and team after team has trapped the Lions' interior linemen there with down blocks, as the Vikings did on the 15-yard Peterson run.
But while the blocking and play call there appeared to be set for a run left, Carlson's motion and block on Avril indicate that the Vikings were prepared for Peterson to double back. Minnesota does this time and again on handoffs to Peterson, using one player to protect the cutback lane.
The result on this play:
The Viking mascot could've picked up at least seven or eight yards through that hole.
Later, Peterson broke free for a 61-yard touchdown run. As with the 15-yarder we just looked at, it only happened (as most long TD runs tend to) because of a terrific combination of blocking and vision from the running back.
The Vikings lined up in a clear run formation, with fullback Jerome Felton in front of Peterson and a second fullback, Rhett Ellison, on the right end of the line next to tight end Kyle Rudolph. Guard Brandon Fusco pulled wide right, while Felton led Peterson into the hole.
The two guys circled below are Ellison and right tackle Phil Loadholt. The Vikings pulled off sensational blocks all over this play, but that duo was key to setting the edge.
Loadholt blocked down on Suh, trapping him inside (overaggressive Lions D!), while Ellison took on DE Willie Young one-on-one and stalemated him.
Peterson allowed all of his blocks to occur -- below, marked with Xs, are Fusco pancaking CB Chris Houston, Felton taking on safety Erik Coleman and Rudolph pushing into the second level to engage LB Stephen Tulloch.
Every single Vikings blocker won his battle on this play, and Peterson patiently bounced outside between the Fusco and Felton blocks.
From there, it was sheer A.P. athleticism. He outran the remaining Detroit defenders for a back-breaking touchdown.
One more Peterson run from Week 10. This one came late in the fourth quarter, with the Vikings nursing a lead. Again, Minnesota lined up in a heavy run formation and, as we saw before, everyone blocked in the same direction (on this play, right), except left tackle Matt Kalil.
He fired out left toward DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, giving Peterson the block he needed to execute this counter play.
And ... boom.
Great vision, great blocking and exceptional skill from the running back. What more could you want?
But lest you think this is just Peterson taking advantage of the Lions' deficiencies, allow me to present another example of a similar play from Week 7 against Arizona, the first game in Peterson's ridiculous four-game stretch.
This play, which resulted in Peterson picking up 22 yards, started with Minnesota lining up six on the line (with a tight end to the right) and bringing WR Stephen Burton in motion. The defender lined up over Burton, strong safety Adrian Wilson, passed him off in coverage, then came with a blitz at the snap.
Wilson's blitz worked -- he shot untouched through a gap in Minnesota's line. Except instead of taking Peterson, Wilson stayed on QB Christian Ponder. Once Peterson took the handoff, then, there was minimal resistance on the weak side, thanks to left tackle Matt Kalil holding back to take out the defensive end.
When Peterson gets blocking like he had in the examples above, well ... good luck to the defenses. Because even when the blocking is not there, Peterson is capable of making incredible things happen.
Let's jump over to Week 9, when Peterson staggered the Seahawks early with a 74-yard run.
Unlike on the previous examples here, the Vikings did not block that play well at all. By the time Peterson took a handoff from Ponder, Alan Branch had blown Loadholt into the backfield, while Leroy Hill and Richard Sherman waited for Peterson around the edge against just one blocker.
But Branch missed a tackle in the backfield. Then Hill missed. And Sherman. Peterson turned the corner and raced up the sideline all the way to the Seattle 1.
So, if you can't stop Peterson when he's hemmed in like he was there, how can you expect to stop him when he has blocking like this?
Peterson followed Felton through the Seattle line for 24 yards there, en route to 182 and two touchdowns on the day.
We need not pretend that the Vikings have one of the all-time dominant offensive lines nor that this offense is a well-oiled machine -- Ponder played well against the Lions, but his inconsistency has been noted frequently.