The popular NBC television show Heroes featured a simple-yet-effective phrase as its tagline: “Save the cheerleader, save the world.”
The formula for beating the Minnesota Vikings is similarly straightforward: stop Adrian Peterson, beat the Vikings.
It’s not exaggeration to say Peterson is the Vikings’ offense. The Vikings gain 328.8 yards per game; Peterson averages 139.3 total yards per game. Peterson constitutes 42 percent of the Vikings offense on a weekly basis.
If the numbers aren’t remarkable enough – 1,600 yards rushing, 10 touchdowns, a 6.0 yards-per-carry average – one is reminded that Peterson is doing it on a surgically repaired left knee. Peterson tore his ACL and MCL in week 16 of the 2011 season, making his return for the start of the 2012 season questionable at best and highly doubtful at worst. Instead, Peterson has started every game for the Vikings this season.
His miraculous season has helped the Vikings rank third in the NFL in rushing yards per game, averaging 156.2 per game on the ground. And he’s doing it without a viable backup option, too – the Vikings’ second leading rusher is their quarterback, Christian Ponder, with 183 yards on the year.
Ponder has needed every one of those yards, as he has certainly struggled to gain them through the air. Their outstanding rushing attack is offset by the league’s worst passing offense – they average just 172.6 yards passing, almost 14 yards fewer than the next-worst passing team. With big-play threat Percy Harvin out for the season, Ponder’s best weapon becomes second-year tight end Kyle Rudolph.
On defense, the Vikings toil in mediocrity. They don’t stop run or pass especially well, but rather do both with some degree of balance. They don’t take the ball away at an alarming rate, but they’re not near the bottom of the league in interceptions or fumble recoveries, either. They are, as a defensive unit, average.
That’s not to say they don’t have some noteworthy playmakers. Defensive end Jared Allen continues to be a pass-rush threat, with nine sacks under his belt this season. Outside linebacker Chad Greenway is second in the NFL with 126 tackles, seven ahead of Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. And rookie free safety Harrison Smith boasts some ballhawking skills, having returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns, including one last week against the Chicago Bears.
The Vikings will rely on Peterson to shorten the game and wear down the Rams defense. Similarly, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher has made his gameplan known – control the ball on offense, run clock and limit the Vikings possessions.
“That’s probably the biggest job that I have this weekend is keeping the chains moving, making sure that I’m effective in the run game and that we keep him — because he’s red hot — we keep him on the sideline,” running back Steven Jackson said.
Save the defense, save the world.