GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers have already contained Adrian Peterson once this season, and they know what they have to do to keep the Minnesota Vikings’ star running back and the NFL’s reigning MVP in check again.
“Gang tackle against him,” Packers rookie defensive end Datone Jones said in advance of Sunday’s game between the Packers and Vikings at Lambeau Field. “(It’s) never just one guy on him. Most of the time, if you get one guy to tackle Adrian Peterson, that’s a touchdown. Our main objective (is to) get all our guys to the stack, get everybody to the ball (and) we can hold them.
“When he breaks those long plays, it’s always one guy on him. He makes a great play making one guy miss. They key is swarming the ball, making sure you’re around a pal so you can make that play. If one guy can’t make it, the next guy will.”
In the Packers’ last meeting with Peterson, they held him to 60 yards on 13 carries. (That the Vikings coaching staff held him to 13 carries is harder to explain.) After the Oct. 27 game, head coach Mike McCarthy said it was the team’s focus all week because of the damage – 409 of his 2,097 rushing yards last season, or 19.5 percent – that Peterson did in two regular season games against the Packers last season.
“Each week that I go in, I’m like, ‘This team is coming in to stop the run. Period. That’s what they’re coming to do,’” Peterson said in a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field earlier this week. “I get my mind ready for that and I go out and try to execute to the best of my ability.”
Peterson also acknowledged that the Vikings’ tumultuous quarterback situation hasn’t helped him – or anyone on the offensive side of the ball.
“I would say any time you’re not consistent at the quarterback position, it impacts the entire team. Not just me,” Peterson said. “But the run plays off the pass and vice versa. So when you’re not really passing the ball that well, teams can focus on the run, especially when you’re a run team first. So it makes it difficult when the quarterback play is not up to par.”
But while defensive end Mike Daniels said it wouldn’t be easy to stop Peterson, he also said he knows the Packers’ defensive line can.
“Our guys did a heck of a job stuffing him up in the run game (in Minnesota) and we’ve just got to come out and do exactly what we know how to do,” Daniels said. “We know what to do. We should be fine. We just have to play football the way we know how to play.”
After the Packers’ 44-31 win in Minnesota, the defense was ranked 11th in the NFL in total defense – which has been their highest ranking this season – and fourth in run defense. Three games later – in which they are 0-3 – the Packers have fallen to 18th in total defense, and 12th in run defense.
The two losses to Chicago and Philadelphia were the two most damaging. Against running games led by Matt Forte (125 yards) and LeSean McCoy (155 yards), the Packers’ defense gave up 342 total rushing yards. In their first eight games, they gave up 696.
But after only giving up 78 yards on the ground in Sunday’s 27-13 loss to the New York Giants, defensive coordinator Dom Capers said he was pleased with what he saw from the run defense.
“I think that there were a number of positive things to build on, starting with our run defense,” Capers said on Monday. “I thought we got back to playing the run the play we have in the past.”
Though the Packers’ defensive unit has been battling injuries all year, Daniels said the reason for the overall success they have has is because they came into the season with an edge.
“I love our attitude,” Daniels said. “Our attitude’s different this year. We’re a lot meaner so that’s always a plus, and I think that's the way this team in general is headed – just a tougher, meaner directions. The run defense has been great. The run offense has been great, despite the last couple of weeks.”
Asked where that came from, Daniels replied, “(It was) a conscious decision that guys made. When everyone was calling us soft in the offseason, I think that struck a nerve with a lot of people. We don’t have soft men in this locker room and I think everyone sought out to prove that and we’re doing a good job of it. We need to just continue to improve that so we can establish ourselves as a physical team.”
But while the Daniels said he was proud of the defensive effort on Peterson in the Week 8 matchup, he admitted there is one aspect of their game that they have focused on – getting off the field in the fourth quarter. And it showed in New York.
“Last week we did a good job,” said Daniels, despite the fact the defense has already given up 90 points in the fourth quarters of games, after only giving up 85 fourth-quarter points all of last season. “We got the ball back (on) all three of (the Giants’) possessions in the fourth quarter. Against the Vikings, we didn’t close out too well so we have to make sure we change that aspect of our game in terms of lining up against Minnesota.”
Sarah Barshop covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/sarahbarshop.