Bernie Bytes: Can Rams Contain Peterson?
Bernie Bytes: Can Rams contain Peterson?
11 hours ago • BY BERNIE MIKLASZ, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist
It’s good to be back …
Adrian Peterson comes to town Sunday, and he’s the No. 1 story line of the Vikings-Rams matchup. Can an improved Rams’ run defense stop the mostly unstoppable Peterson? Through his career, has Jeff Fisher displayed a special skill for devising plans to successfully contain star running backs?
In this case, the hype is legit. This really is a fascinating and spot-on story line. Peterson is having an amazing season. He’s on pace for one of the all-time greatest single seasons by an NFL back. And to this point I believe he’s the league MVP, though voters usually get the goo-goo eyes for Peyton Manning.
Let’s take a look at Peterson’s 2012 ledger:
• Leads the NFL with 1,600 yards rushing and an average of 123.1 yards per game.
• Is averaging 6.0 yards per rush and has romped for 10 TDs. Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller leads with an average of 6.4 yards but his workload is slight compared to AP’s.
• Leads the league with eight 100-yard rushing games.
• Has exceeded 100 yards rushing in seven consecutive games. In these magnificent seven he’s averaged 157 yards per game, and an absurd 7.2 yards per rushing attempt and has busted loose for 31 runs of 10+ yards. And he’s gone on this attack against some very good defenses, including Seattle, Chicago (twice) and Arizona.
• Leads the league with 43 runs of 10+ yards. Those 43 runs average 23.8 yards.
• Leads the league with 29 runs of 15+ yards. Of his 1,600 yards rushing for the season, 53.8% have been accumulated on runs of 15+ yards.
• Leads the league with 18 runs of 20+ yards. Those 18 runs average 37.6 yards.
• Leads the league with five runs of 50+ yards (61, 82, 64, 74, 51.)
• Leads the NFL in most broken tackles by a back.
• Has the league’s best Elusive Rating (by far) in the analysis done by Pro Football Focus.
• Leads the league in most yards rushing after initial contact – 846 yards.
• Leads the league with an average of 3.3 yards gained after contact per rush (minimum 100 attempts.)
• Has averaged an astounding 8.2 yards per carry (12 for 99) on third-and-1, or fourth-and-1 rushing attempts. Think about that one; it’s third or fourth and short and the entire defense is geared to stop Peterson. And he wins in a no-contest.
I could go on … I’m sure I’m leaving a lot of stuff out. Peterson is a stats machine, for sure. How dominant is AP? Consider: QB Christian Ponder passed for only 58 yards against Arizona, and threw for 91 yards against Chicago, and the Vikings WON both games.
OK, so what can the Rams do?
Well, they’ve been playing solid run defense over the last four games, allowing opponents 407 yards on 120 carries. That’s an average of 3.4 yards per attempt. The Rams have done a good job of limiting the likes of Frank Gore, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. So there’s a reason for mild optimism.
The reinforcement of the run defense is directly related to the emergence of rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers. He’s been dominant in recent weeks, capable of wrecking an O-line’s interior blocking. The other DT, Kendall Langford, hasn’t been as effective as Brockers (not close, really). But Langford graded out well at Buffalo. The linebackers and defensive backs have been firmer in their run support.
A couple of questions:
1. Where is the primary strength of Peterson’s game? The answer: runs to the middle right, and to the right. I’m not suggesting that he’s ineffective on runs to the left side. He’s dangerous when heading in any direction. But rookie Minnesota left OT Matt Kalil is more of a pass protector (and a great one, already) than a rugged run blocker. And the Vikings’ brute force is over on the right side with OT Phil Loadholt and physical play from the right guard. Pro Football Focus ranks the Vikings’ John Sullivan as the No. 2 run-blocking center in the NFL. The Vikings also have two outstanding lead blockers in fullbacks Jerome Felton and Rhett Ellison. They pave the way. The Vikings surely will muscle up, go center-right, and see if they can exploit DE Chris Long, who hasn’t graded well against the run this season. Someone will have to take on those lead blockers and win the battle.
2. How is Fisher’s history at stopping top backs? Well, I suppose you can find numbers to support whatever it is that you want to believe about this … but in all candor, I was surprised to look at the Fisher record to see that his defenses in Tennessee were victimized by some big days by elite backs. LaDainian Tomlinson had games of 147 and 146 yards. In 10 games vs. Fisher defenses, Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 800 yards, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, with 7 TDs and 19 runs of 10+ yards. Cincinnati’s Corey Dillon gashed Tennessee’s defense for games of 246, 138 and 124 yards. Indy’s Edgerrin James had four 100-yard games. The Houston Texans had four combined 100-yard games from Arian Foster and Domanick Williams. Jacksonville’s Fred Taylor had four 100-yard games. Fisher’s defense gave up a 172-yard game to Ricky Williams, and a 172-yard game to Shaun Alexander, a 138-yard game to Michael Turner, and 161 yards to Willie Parker.
On the other hand, Fisher’s defenses did a nice job of controlling impact backs such as Curtis Martin, Marshall Faulk, Clinton Portis, Jamal Lewis, Thomas Jones, Tiki Barber.
This will be a fun battle to watch, because Fisher will have his players in a frenzy by Sunday, gearing them up to stop the unstoppable running back.
3. Fisher says that the key to limiting Peterson is keeping Peterson on the bench. Is this true? Control the ball on offense and keep Peterson off the field. That seems simple. But is it overly simplistic? Not really. There’s merit in Fisher’s theory. In seven wins, Minnesota averages 29 minutes 44 seconds in time of possession. In the six losses, that average time of possession is 25 minutes and 21 seconds. So there is a connection.
That said, the Vikings aren’t ball hogs. They rank 29th among 32 teams in average time of possession, have one of the worst three-and-out rates in the NFL, are 20th in the number of five-minute drives, and are 17th in average length of scoring drives.
So if you are buying into Fisher’s theory, then there is plenty of material out there to back it up. The Rams have a better ball-control offense than the Vikings. That isn’t an opinion. It’s a fact. The Rams rank 22nd in time of possession, have more 10-play drives than Minnesota (23 to 22), rank 6th in the NFL in average length of scoring drives, and are tied for 11th in the number of five-minute possessions.
The Rams’ biggest problem in this area: they don’t get enough possessions. They’ve had 147 series on offense this year, which ranks tied for 26th. But Minnesota (148) has only one more possession so far. It’s a wash.
Thanks for reading …
Re: Bernie Bytes: Can Rams Contain Peterson?
gosh dang it, i have to root against matt kalil, shows why he didn't need to stay another year at SC...
Re: Bernie Bytes: Can Rams Contain Peterson?
Bernie, you nincompoop bastaad!