Vikings Second-Year Running Back Peterson a Big Challenge, Brackett Says
INDIANAPOLIS – As Gary Brackett sees it, the early minutes of the Colts' game Sunday will be big. Perhaps really big.
Brackett, the Colts' middle linebacker and defensive captain, is at the center of a defense that on Sunday afternoon will face a task that since the beginning of last season rapidly has become one of the NFL's most daunting, difficult and dangerous.
Stop Adrian Peterson. Or at least try to slow him down.
Peterson, a second-year running back for the Minnesota Vikings, in a little more than a season has established himself as one of the NFL's most dynamic offensive players, a player with unique abilities and one capable of changing the momentum – and even the outcome – of a game on a single play.
Peterson, Brackett said, is a dangerous player. And to the Colts, he is an unfamiliar player.
And Brackett said that makes the early part of Sunday's game big.
Perhaps really big.
"First quarter, first drive, we're going to have to send a message," Brackett said as the Colts (0-1) prepared to play the Vikings (0-1) at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome Sunday at 1 p.m.
"We have to set the tempo and obviously we want to start fast and get as many three-and-outs as possible. Obviously, you don't want those guys to get started in the first quarter breaking off 15-to-20 yard runs."
That's something Brackett and other Colts defensive players agreed this week happened far too often this past week in the season opener against Chicago.
The Colts, after ranking 32nd in the NFL against the run in the 2006 regular season, improved drastically in that area in the postseason that year, then continued that improvement last regular season, ranking 15th in the NFL and allowing 106.9 yards per game.
Then came this past Sunday, when Bears rookie running back Matt Forte rushed for 123 yards on 23 carries, a 5.3-yards-per-carry average. The Bears as a team rushed for 183 yards.
Included in Forte's performance was a 50-yard run for a touchdown in the first quarter, and Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said this week Chicago also hurt the Colts by running effectively on first and second downs, thereby creating manageable third-down situations.
The Bears converted 10 of 16 third downs into first downs.
"You can't win a game in the National Football League – you can't win a game in high school – with the opposing team doing that," Colts President Bill Polian said this week.
With such a defensive performance, Brackett said the Vikings – particularly considering the presence of Peterson – almost certainly will take a similar approach.
"With how we played this week, we're going to anticipate that they're going to run the football," Brackett said. "That's kind of their MO (mode of operation) anyway. Heading into the game we're going to shore up some things in our defense and be solid against those guys come Sunday."
Being solid against Peterson, Brackett said, will be difficult in part because whereas the Colts have played backs such as Jaguars running back Fred Taylor and San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, Colts players never have been on the field against Peterson.
Such a situation, Colts safety Bob Sanders said, presents a unique challenge, and makes the week leading to the game particularly imant.
"You try to do it (get familiar with Peterson) as far as watching film," Sanders said. "You want to watch as much film as possible. You want to look at the guy's weaknesses and see how you capitalize on those. The great things he does, you have to do whatever you can to stop them. Even though we haven't played against him yet, this will be a great test for us.
"It's early in the season, but I think it's good for us.
Brackett said no matter how much film players watch, the dynamics change come game time, which makes the early minutes – the time when defensive players are first getting used to a player such as Peterson's speed and power – important.
"You definitely want to gauge him," Brackett said. "You watch film to see what type of runner he is. Watching on film, it really doesn't translate. A couple of years ago, when we played (then-Seattle Seahawks running back and NFL Most Valuable Player) Shaun Alexander for the first time, it doesn't appear he's running fast on film, but when you get in the game, he has that change of gear.
"Definitely, it's going to be the same thing with Adrian Peterson."
Peterson, the No. 7 overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft from the University of Oklahoma, rushed for 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns on 238 carries – a 5.6-yards-per-carry average – as a rookie. He had six 100-yard games, and on November 4, he set the NFL's single-game rushing record with 296 yards on 30 carries against the San Diego Chargers.
"He's electrifying," Brackett said. "We've played a lot of great backs in Fred Taylor, (Jaguars running back Maurice) Jones-Drew, LaDainian Tomlinson. He definitely belongs up there with that company. We just have to play well – sound gap defense, tackle the ballcarrier when you have the opportunity to make a play."
Said Sanders, "He's a great running back. Any given play, he can take it the distance. We can't miss tackles. We can't arm tackle. We have to gang tackle. We have to be ready. We have to know what they're doing and don't be surprised by anything. The main thing this week is to get back to what we're used to doing and that's playing fast, running to the ball, making tackles and getting back to our assignments."
Dungy, who compared Peterson this week to the late Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton because of his competitiveness and a belief that he should score every play, was asked this week to place Peterson among the top backs in the NFL. He replied, "I don't know where to put him . . . Tomlinson. I don't know if there's anybody else you put in that category. He looks special and he gives them some spark. They have a very good offensive line and it's going to be a big test for us."
And Sanders, like Brackett, said that playing a back so special puts pressure on a defense – and not just early in the game.
"You have to start fast," Sanders said. "You don't want to give him momentum. You don't want to let him get started and feel like he can do whatever. Once you let him get in the groove, it's kind of hard to get him out of it."