Vikings running back Peterson on Lions’ minds

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Two fan bases in two Midwestern cities. One gripe.

Get the team’s best player the ball more.

Lions fans spent most of Sunday and Monday fretting that Calvin Johnson had two catches on only four targets in Sunday’s loss to the Chargers.

In Minnesota, Vikings fans wondered aloud how Adrian Peterson, in his first game back from his suspension last season, had only 10 carries for 31 yards in Monday’s 20-3 loss to the 49ers.

For two superstar players — each with more than 10,000 yards in his career — it’s a common theme. For Minnesota, though, it was puzzling to see how the Vikings utilized their leading rusher.

“I know that we had plays called and we got out of it,” Zimmer said Wednesday via conference call. “We rested him on one of those series and the other guy got a couple carries. Then the game kind of got into a throwing mode for us.”

Whatever happened, the Vikings got away from their biggest weapons and the conventional wisdom is that they’ll look to establish him Sunday when the Vikings host the Lions at TCF Bank Stadium.

In 12 career games against the Lions, Peterson has averaged about 20 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown. Lions coach Jim Caldwell doesn’t think the Vikings will go another week without giving Peterson a few more carries.

“You really don’t know. From week to week, the game oftentimes dictates some things that happen out there on the field. So, you really don’t know,” he said. “I would anticipate, obviously, that he’s going to be a factor in the game, so we better know where he is and certainly be ready to tackle him.”

In his eight seasons, Peterson has compiled a resume against the Lions that includes an 80-yard touchdown run in 2010, a 61-yard scoring jaunt in 2012 and a 78-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage in 2013. He’s a force that the defense needs to identify on every play and use all its resources to corral him.

“He’s going to run hard. He’s not just trying to break a tackle or get a couple yards — he’s trying to run through you,” Lions cornerback Josh Wilson said. “He wants to break your face mask, and when you’ve got a guy like that who runs with such horsepower, you’ve got to make sure you bring your hips — you’re not going to arm-tackle this guy.”

With a developing second-year quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater and some additional receiving weapons such as Mike Wallace, the Vikings have more balance to go with Peterson’s return this season, after missing most of last year.

Now the key is making it all mesh together — and if last week was any indication, there’s still plenty more work to do in ensuring that they don’t get too far away from the bread-and-butter of their offense.

“He changes the dynamic; he’s a big part of their offense. He’ll make you tackle him every play and he’ll go 100 yards every time if you don’t tackle and he’s running to score every single time,” Lions safety Glover Quin said. “He’s definitely a big focus. If you can’t stop the run game, it’s going to be very hard to stop anything.”

Defense knows greatness

While Peterson is looking to work his way back into the offense this season, there’s no question of the impact he’s had in his career, topping 10,000 yards, including a monstrous season in 2012 with 2,097 yards and 12 TDs.

He’s well on his way to being among the best backs in NFL — if he’s not already there.

“He’s a very, very good runner. When you say the best there is, it’s hard to get into those whatevers when it comes to running backs because you have some who can run it really good and some who can catch it really well and some who can do both,” Quin said. “He is a very, very talented runner.”

Peterson left an impression on Darius Slay, who was a rookie in 2013 and saw his greatness firsthand on that initial play from scrimmage. Slay had the highest accolades for Peterson, judging by Slay’s three years of playing in the NFL.

“He’s the best running ever to play the game — ever,” Slay said.

When pressed about the statement and comparing Barry Sanders, Slay softened his stance.

“He’s probably the best after Barry,” he said. “It’s an argument. That guy is great — oh, my goodness.

“He’s in my generation, so I’m going with him. I’ve never seen Barry play.”

Quin cited Peterson’s rare combination of speed and power to run over defenders as what sets him apart from most other runners. Some backs have one or the other, but few have both skill sets.

Caldwell concurred.

“They’re rare. Obviously, real rare. The size, power, speed, all of the things he possesses,” Caldwell said. “That’s why he’s been able to do what he’s done through the years. He’s certainly a great back.”

Lions at Vikings

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis

TV/radio: Fox/97.1

Records: Lions 0-1, Vikings 0-1

Line: Vikings by 3

Series: Vikings lead 69-36-2 (Detroit 16-14, Dec. 14, 2014)

Did you know? The Lions 34.6 winning percentage against the Vikings is the lowest among their North Division rivals.