Adrian Peterson can see it.
He saw it a lot on Sunday, he saw a lot of it on Dec. 2, and he hopes to see more of it again Saturday night, in the NFC Wild Card rubber match between the Green Bay Packers and his Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field.
Frustration. And, with it, fatigue.
“You can see it in their eyes,” the Vikings superstar running back said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters Tuesday. “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.”
And there is nothing more exasperating – or exhausting – for a defense than to have Peterson seemingly bottled up, only to see him escape. It happened time and time again during the Vikings’ 37-34 victory at Mall of America Field at the Metrodome on Sunday, when Peterson ran for 199 yards on 34 carries and came up 8 yards short of Eric Dickerson’s 1984 NFL single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards.
Of Peterson’s 2,097 yards this season, a whopping 409 (19.5 percent) came against the Packers. But the more stunning number is this: According to ProFootballFocus.com, of Peterson’s 199 yards Sunday, 189 yards came after contact. And in his 210-yard performance on Dec. 2, 186 came after contact. That’s 375 of 409 yards coming after contact, or 91.7 percent, according to ProFootballFocus.com
That’s obviously a subjective statistic. ESPN Stats & Information, 230 of Peterson’s 409 yards came after contact -- 143 in the first game, and 87 in second. And per STATS, Peterson had 160 yards after contact in the Dec. 2 meeting and 94 in the second, for a total of 254 total yards. (STATS had Peterson with 1,047 yards after contact for the season, PFF had him with 1,414 on the year.)
But no matter how you slice it, at the very least, more than half of Peterson’s yards against Green Bay have come after the Packers hit him. And that’s as frustrating as it gets for a defensive player.
“We’ll have him bottled up, and a guy like myself will come in and try to make a play on him like any other running back – but you can’t do that against Peterson,” outside linebacker Erik Walden said. “He made us pay, so we have to be on high alert and prevent that from happening again. He’s gotten us twice, man. We’ve got to do something about it as a defense – we have to take pride, put our hard hat on and stand up like a man and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Or, as defensive end C.J. Wilson put it, “You know that you’ve got him, and you’re like, ‘OK, cool, we just stopped him for a loss.’ And one second later he’s breaking down the sideline and you’re like, ‘Oh, maaaan.’ That’s so frustrating for our defense.”
And that’s a fact that Peterson is well aware of.
“It feels good to be able to get out of different situations, especially when a defense is coming in focused on stopping on the run,” Peterson said of escaping when it appears he’s going nowhere. “It hurts the defense.
“A prime example, St. Louis, we played those guys, and they were talking a lot of noise, and the first 10 carries I think I was like negative yardage, and I just stayed patient and kept hitting it and sprung a big one, and that kind of was a gut punch to them. It’s fun just to see the change and the switch of the momentum.”
According to Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, the Packers’ mentality of getting all 11 defenders to Peterson actually came back to bite them against Peterson, who used their zeal against them.
“I think our guys had a chance to look (at the film) and realize you can’t be overaggressive. You can’t let your emotions get the best of you in terms of everybody going to the ball. Sometimes you have to be patient and hold your leverage on the backside,” Capers said Thursday. “I don’t think they reinvented the wheel in terms of running the football. It’s a matter of execution. ...You can’t be too over-aggressive and get your nose stuck inside because Adrian’s a rare guy in terms of his ability to stack in there behind and he’s going to go to the open area and he has the speed to out-run you.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers put eight or more defenders in the box on only 13 of Adrian Peterson’s 55 rushes against them this season, but the strategy didn’t do much to stop him. Peterson gained 6.9 yards per rush when the Packers put eight-plus in the box this season, compared to 7.6 yards per rush with seven or fewer. He also averaged 13.7 yards per rush outside the tackles, and the Packers allowed 7.0 yards per rush outside the tackles overall this season, second worst in the NFL.
“Hey, you can put 11 in the box,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said in his conference call. “I mean, we had a second-and-27 and he gets 28 yards. So no, we’re never afraid to give it to No. 28, never afraid to give it to Adrian.”
And the Packer can’t be afraid to go after him. They just have to be smarter the third time around.
“Especially this last game, we’d have him bottled up – we may not have a bunch of guys on him or ahold of him, but a group of guys around him – and he just puts his foot in the ground and he’s off,” inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said, shaking his head. “I’ve always said great running backs have great vision, and he’s got great vision. A lot of those times, you have him bottled up, but if you don’t have him on the ground, he’s not done. That’s for sure.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.