WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – The only running back with 1,000 career carries and a higher average than the Vikings’ 28-year-old Adrian Peterson is the immortal Jim Brown. The only running back with more yards in a year than Peterson rushed for during his 2012 MVP season is Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson. No running back has ever topped the 296 yards that Peterson gained against San Diego as a rookie six years ago this week.
And yet, Peterson, who has averaged 100.9 yards per game and 5.0 per carry against the rest of the NFL during his career, has averaged just 45 yards per game and 4.0 per carry during his four meetings with the Redskins heading into tonight’s matchup in Minnesota.
Game by game, Peterson’s numbers against Washington are: nine carries, 27 yards in 2007; six carries, 36 yards in 2010; 12 carries, 38 yards in 2011 before tearing his left ACL when hit by then-Redskins safety DeJon Gomes; and 17 carries for 79 yards last year when he returned to peak form barely nine months after knee surgery. All told, that’s 44 carries for 180 yards. That’s closer to a typical Peterson outing than one of his usual four-game spans.
“You’re talking about a phenomenal football player,” said 16th-year inside linebacker London Fletcher, the captain of the Washington defenses that have slowed Peterson, with whom he has played in Pro Bowls. “He’s full-speed in Pro Bowl walk-through practices. When you look at the power, the speed and being able to cut on a dime, I can’t think of a back with all those different attributes. When you face the Minnesota Vikings, the number one task is stopping him, not allowing him to get going. We have corners that will come up and tackle. That’s the thing that helps us. It’s 11 guys knowing what they need to do.”
The teams have split the four games during Peterson’s NFL career with the Redskins winning on their way to the playoffs in 2007 and 2012 and the Vikings prevailing in 2010 and 2011.
“You have to be detailed from the first play to the last play,” said defensive end Kedric Golston, who helped tackle Peterson in 2007, 2010 and 2012. “He’s extremely explosive and hard to bring down. [You have to] gang-tackle him to get on the ground.”
Other than ranking eighth in yards per-carry allowed, the 1-7 Vikings are in the bottom 10 of the league in passing, scoring, pass defense and scoring defense. That would make the Redskins the favorite tonight even at 3-5. But then there’s Peterson, who’s fourth in rushing yards, second in rushing touchdowns, and third in rushing average among the 15 most productive backs.
“He’s the best back in the league,” declared defensive end Stephen Bowen, who has faced Peterson three times with Dallas and twice with Washington. “He knows when somebody’s out of position. Everybody’s really got to be gap-sound. That’s why we’ve been successful.”
Even Washington’s offensive players know they’re going to be on the field with one of the greats tonight. Left tackle Trent Williams blocked for Peterson as a freshman at Oklahoma.
“He’s more like a big brother [to me] with us being from half an hour apart in Texas,” said Williams, who trains with Peterson during the offseason. “When I came in, he kind of took me under his wing and held me to a high standard. He wouldn’t let me play a freshman type of game. Every mistake I made, he was in my ear. You [didn’t] want to be the one who he had to make your guy miss in the backfield.”
The Redskins know what can happen if a tackler whiffs on Peterson, who has 21 career runs of at least 50 yards.
“If you give him one step, one chance, [or he] breaks a tackle, he’s got the ability to go the distance,” said coach Mike Shanahan.
While Washington ranks just 30th on defense, 22nd against the run, Bowen said that the goal line stand in the final seconds of regulation in last week’s overtime victory over San Diego can make a big difference.
“We’re playing a lot better than we were in the beginning of the season,” said Bowen, referring to Weeks 1-3 when the Redskins were surrendering yards at a NFL record pace. “Guys are starting to play with a lot more confidence. That goal line stand is gonna be a confidence booster for us; that we know even when our backs are against the wall, we can still get it done.”
Or even when they’re facing the greatest running back of his time.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.