Adrian Peterson's nickname is AD, for "All Day." It might as well be ID, because Peterson is undoubtedly the identity of the Minnesota Vikings.
Since the beginning of the 2007 season, the Vikings have been the single best rushing team in the National Football League. They commit to the run every single week and, with Peterson in the backfield, it usually works. Minnesota has averaged 138.3 ground yards per game since 2007, and they certainly aren't looking to change that identity in 2011. Though they lost on opening weekend in San Diego, Minnesota ran for 159 yards, 98 of them by Peterson.
So, just like the Buccaneers knew that the Detroit Lions would look for every opportunity to throw it to Calvin Johnson last Sunday, they know that they can prepare for a Peterson-centric offense this coming weekend in the Metrodome. It's a challenge they are very much looking forward to taking on.
"It's great," said Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris. "You want to play against the best. Last week, we played against one of the best wideouts in the National Football League and did a decent job. Now, this week, we have arguably one of the best running backs in the league. Challenges never stop in the NFL. That's why it's an exciting game."
Since Peterson went to Minnesota in the first round of the 2007 draft, the Vikings have led the league in breakout runs, with 260 carries of 10 or more yards. The majority of those breakaways, a league-leading 161 over that span, belong to Peterson, and the Bucs' defense has to constantly guard against him escaping around the end or through a quick seam in the middle.
"This team, they like to run it around the perimeter; they like to run it everywhere," said defensive tackle Roy Miller. "This guy just has so much talent. I played against him in college, and just over the years watching him – he can hit it anywhere so you've got to be prepared. With this team, playing against these guys, it's going to take all 11 guys. They hit it anywhere, they run anywhere, and we're going to need a team effort."
That said, Miller and his fellow defensive linemen believe they are the key to keeping Peterson from chewing up big chunks of yardage at a time. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy insists the success of his group won't be measured in how many tackles they have by the end of the game, but how well they've disrupted the Vikings' offense by changing the line of scrimmage. McCoy said the Buccaneers' defensive line has to push the Minnesota offensive line backward as often as possible, because that makes it harder for Peterson to find quick seams.
McCoy will be perfectly pleased if his play up front results in the men behind him racking up the stops.
"It's tough, because how they run you know you're going to get a lot of double teams," he said. "I've been eating well this week. I know I'm going to have to hold up some blockers, but I have all the confidence in our game plan. If I do take up two and Brian Price takes up two, then those 'backers will come free and make those plays.
"AD can make something out of nothing, but you still don't want to make it easy. You want to make it hard, so if you do see him get a big game you can say, 'Hey, at least it wasn't easy for him.'
Peterson has 24 100-yard games in his relatively young NFL career, and the Vikings have won 17 of those games. He has faced the Buccaneers only once, with Tampa Bay holding him to "only" 85 yards on 19 carries in a 2008 contest played at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs won that contest, 13-9, but the only defensive starter who is still with the team three years later is cornerback Ronde Barber. Miller played against Peterson during their overlap at the Universities of Texas and Oklahoma, respectively, and McCoy was briefly Peterson's Sooner teammate, but this is the first time that most of the Bucs' young defenders will face the challenge of stopping the Vikings' prolific back. Morris wants them to understand that it's going to take every player on the field.
"When you talk about a guy like Adrian Peterson, you are talking about all 11 men on the field," said the coach. "You are talking about bringing him down as a unit, bringing him down as a group, swarm tackling, running all day. You can't let him get any breathing room because he will absolutely burn you. We know that. We've got to gang tackle, we've got to get a bunch of hats to the ball, we've got to rally to the football every snap. The one that you don't is the one that he hurts you."
Back to the Trop
When Morris bused his team over to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on Thursday morning, he knew would he would find. He had used the same tactic on a series of Thursdays a year ago, and had been pleased with the results. The home of the Tampa Bay Rays of MLB offers their NFL counterparts some shelter from the harsh Florida elements of September, whether it be the threat of rain or, more commonly, the stifling heat.
In this case, though, Morris might have been looking for one other advantage. With the Rays recently catching fire in the AL playoff stretch drive under the direction of his good friend, Manager Joe Maddon, Morris thought he might be able get catch some of the same mojo.
"The good-luck Trop," said Morris. "I went over to steal some of that Coach Maddon love. I went and sat in that seat, rubbed around a little bit, rolled in that dust."
Communicative luck or not, there actually was a good secondary reason for the Bucs to utilize the Trop, besides the roof over their heads – the turf under their feet.
The Buccaneers will play at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on Sunday, marking one of three times they'll get to play on artificial turf during the 2011 regular season. They'll also encounter that surface in familiar venues in New Orleans in Week Nine and Atlanta in Week 17.
"We beat the heat a little bit," said Morris. "We get ready for the dome, so it's two-fold this week. You've got the Astroturf out there, you've got the lighting, all that type of setting. It is a great opportunity not be beat your team up two days in a row and then try and get ready for a game. Tomorrow we can go out there and have a quick, fast practice in the grass and be ready to deal. We'll go play our game."
The Bucs were 2-2 on artificial turf in 2010, winning at Cincinnati and New Orleans and losing at Baltimore and Atlanta. The Bucs are 7-14 over the past five years on non-natural surfaces.
The Buccaneers coaches aren't the only people in the building who are impressed with the way second-year defensive tackle Brian Price has overcome two serious leg injuries to return to the field at the beginning of 2011. In fact, it is his fellow players, especially the ones with which he shares a meeting room, that probably have the most personal viewpoint of what Price has overcome.
Fellow defensive tackle Roy Miller, one of the team's starters since the beginning of last year, doesn't even begrudge Price his elevation to the starting 11 at nose tackle. Both Price and Miller will still play extensively on Sunday, but Price has replaced Miller in the starting spot for Sunday's game in Minnesota.
"I think Brian deserves it," said a gracious Miller on Thursday. "This guy's a fighter. He's been through so much over the years. To have an injury that nobody can really explain to you how to come back from, I think that's phenomenal. It speaks a lot about his character."
Miller himself is just coming back from a knee injury that cost him all but the first few plays of the preseason opener against Kansas City. That injury also contributed to the switch in the starting lineup, because Miller missed a lot of preparation time and he thinks that contributed to an admittedly subpar outing against Detroit. Even while praising Price for the work he has done to earn a starting spot, Miller is champing at the bit to prove what he can do this week, too.
"I could have done better last week, coming off all those weeks off," he said. "I could have a better game and I'm looking forward to it. I'm just excited. It's like I'm a prisoner scratching off each day on my cell wall. I've got a lot to get off my chest."
Miller and Price both practiced on Thursday and are not on the injury report. Only two players missed the workout at the Trop: wide receiver Sammie Stroughter, who had foot surgery on Monday; and cornerback Myron Lewis, who has been out since midway through the preseason with a hamstring ailment. Lewis did run extensively during Thursday's practice, which was encouraging, though he still appears to be a long shot to play this Sunday.
After getting a day off on Wednesday as part of his normal maintenance plan, tight end Kellen Winslow returned to the (artificial) field on Thursday. Defensive Da'Quan Bowers took a little "ding" to his shoulder in practice but Morris said it was nothing to be concerned about.