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Tackling Adrian Peterson easier said than done

Posted Dec 27, 2012

Rushing for 200 yards in a loss, as Peterson did four weeks ago, a rarity in league history

GREEN BAY—It sounds so simple, but if it really were, Adrian Peterson wouldn’t be knocking on the 2,000-yard door.

“We have to tackle better,” said defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, discussing how the Packers on Sunday can prevent Peterson from repeating his 210-yard performance of four weeks ago at Lambeau Field.

“We watched film, and his big plays, we just missed a lot of tackles.”

Pickett is exactly right, of course. Anyone reviewing the film of Peterson’s three explosive runs in Week 13 against the Packers – of 82, 48 and 23 yards – can count at least five or six good shots at a tackle that didn’t result in one.

Peterson has done that to teams all season. That’s why he’s only 208 yards from breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105, which was set a few months before the 27-year-old Peterson was born.

For a defense whose improved tackling is one of many reasons for its climb up the league rankings this season, a half dozen missed tackles is more than the Packers have tallied in most games in 2012, let alone on just three runs.

Those three accounted for 153 of Peterson’s 210 yards that day. He had just 57 yards on his other 18 carries (3.2 avg.), so there’s plenty of film the Packers can watch this week showing how to successfully defend him.

It’s not just about shoring up tackling technique, though. Defensive lineman B.J. Raji makes a valid point in that respect.

“You really can’t expect one guy to tackle him, even if there’s a free guy in the hole,” Raji said. “He really doesn’t stop.”

Peterson demands teamwork. “Gang-tackling” and “11 guys to the ball” are the catch-phrases on the defensive side of the locker room this week.

Peterson isn’t entirely healthy, having exited last week’s Minnesota victory in Houston early due to an abdomen injury. He didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday this week, but he has guaranteed he’ll play on Sunday at the Metrodome, and the Packers know they can’t count on sore muscles to slow down his pursuit of history.

“He’s going to be a hungry player out there,” rookie defensive lineman Jerel Worthy said. “He’s trying to chase greatness.”

The Packers should be in better shape to defend him this time around. Worthy, fellow rookie Mike Daniels and third-year pro Mike Neal were three of the Packers’ five active defensive linemen in Week 13, and they had never faced Peterson before. Now they have.

Also, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive lineman C.J. Wilson missed that first meeting due to injuries, and both starters should help the cause.

“He’ll make a difference,” Pickett said of Matthews, who racked up five tackles for loss against running backs Matt Forte of Chicago and Chris Johnson of Tennessee in the two games since he returned from a hamstring injury. “He’s a special player. You can’t say enough about him. He gets a lot of coverage for his pass rush, but I think he plays the run probably better than any outside linebacker in the league.”

It will be interesting to see if the Vikings challenge Matthews by running at him, or try to tire him out by running away from him and putting him in chase mode. Either way, the Packers like their chances better with Matthews on the field.

Wilson has missed the last four games with a knee injury but was a full participant in Thursday’s full-pads practice. When healthy, he’s a starter in the base defense alongside Pickett and Raji up front.

“With the addition of Clay, we’ll have speed coming from the back side,” Neal said. “With C.J. being able to take on double teams, it will be great for us to have him in the rotation, keeping guys fresh.”

The sting of the number 210 is still fresh for some of the Packers. Pickett said it left him bitter and he didn’t sleep well after the first Minnesota game, even though the Packers won.

In the past 50 years, prior to Week 13, only seven times had an NFL running back rushed for 200 yards when his team lost. The odds of that happening twice in a month are obviously long.

“You don’t want to be that team to give up a record, or give a guy 200 yards,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “We don’t want that. We don’t want that at all.”

Additional coverage - Dec. 27

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