Adrian Peterson's 192-yard effort against Green Bay last Sunday made him the league's leading rusher, and he still felt as he left yards on the field
In baseball, when a power-hitting slugger steps in against a flame-throwing pitcher, announcers will often tell fans to pay close attention to the matchup of "strength vs. strength" about to unfold at home plate.
Well, keep your eyes on the plate, fans. A "strength vs. strength" slugfest will take place this Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium when Minnesota Vikings superstar running back Adrian Peterson clashes with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' very stout run defense.
Peterson is coming off a Rookie of the Year season in 2007 in which he finished second in the league in rushing yards, earned a starting nod in the Pro Bowl and won the Pro Bowl MVP award. So far in 2008, Peterson is well on pace to top the 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns he posted a year ago.
In fact, he is the only back in the NFL to have passed the 1,000-yard mark 10 weeks into the season, with 1,015, and he has scored seven touchdowns. However, things may get a bit tougher this week.
The Bucs' run defense posted an atypical performance in Kansas City, allowing its first individual 100-yard rushing performance and its lone rushing touchdown of the year, but still ranks 11th in the league by allowing an average of just 99.3 rushing yards per game.
Furthermore, the Bucs have stepped up their game against some of the league's best in 2008. Through 10 games, the Bucs' defense has faced six of the top 10 running backs in the NFC in total rushing yards – Atlanta's Michael Turner, Chicago's Matt Forte, Dallas' Marion Barber, Carolina's DeAngelo Williams, Green Bay's Ryan Grant and Seattle's Julius Jones.
Against the Bucs, however, those six backs combined to rush 99 times for just 291 yards – an average of just 2.93 yards per carry – and each failed to cross the goal line.
Despite those numbers, the always-confident Peterson is actually looking forward to Sunday's game and is relishing a chance to compete against one of the league's best units.
"That is one thing that I have always respected about those guys," Peterson said. "I have always really liked Tampa because of their defense. They have always been one of my favorite teams. Just to be able to go against those guys, led by [Derrick] Brooks, he is a guy that is going to keep that defense on point. He knows every look that is thrown in front of him so I know that he is the guy that is going to get it started on defense and I am just looking forward to going up against those guys."
Conversely, Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden knows his defenders will be excited about adding Peterson to the list of running backs they've shut down.
"We're confident in our defense," Gruden said. "I'm not going to underestimate that we will be there. We're going to show up and play. We've seen Michael Turner, we've seen Marion Barber, it's not like we haven't seen some great backs. There's another one coming in here and no one really comes in here as [a young player] and has, I don't know how many yards he had in 10 games, but good Lord, it was a lot of yards. Last week's performance in Green Bay, just pick up the last 10 carries that the man makes and it'll get your attention."
Although it may be tougher this week to scratch out yards against the Bucs, what makes Peterson special is his attitude. Nicknamed "All Day" for a reason, Peterson is the type of back that gives it his all from whistle to whistle and fully expects to dominate every time he touches the ball.
"You're going to see a guy that is an incredible finisher and an incredible competitor," Gruden said. "He's going to fight you for a yard, physically fight you for every yard. It's not just on seven of the 27 carries. It's 27 carries, if that's how many times, he's got to be physically brought down. He's as physical a man as I've seen play the position. I give him a lot of credit."
Despite such high praise from Gruden and many others around the NFL, Peterson simply shrugs it off.
"It's natural," Peterson said of his work ethic. "It is something that I have been carrying for a long time since I was younger. It has been working for me pretty good so I just kept with the same positive attitude and on through high school and college and now I am in the league, in the NFL."
Brad Childress, the Vikings' Head Coach, has had the opportunity to watch Peterson since Day One and still remarks at his young back's mindset and talent.
"When you set the bar as high as he does, talking about rushing for 2,000 yards, most coaches would cringe," Childress said. "But he's been that way since he's been here. He's been that way since the first route he ran or ball he carried with a tryout group and a group we drafted. When you watched him, you said, 'Wow.' It's carried over with pads on, it's carried over through training camps onto the field, almost to the point where the season he had last year and the 290's and the 260-[yard rushing performances], people think he's having a bad year because he's not in the two [hundreds] every week, where 100 yards is usually the bar that people look at for running backs.
"He's a pleasure to coach, he's got a smile-on-his-face guy every day, he works hard and just wants to be a good teammate and contribute and the most important thing is not how much he rushes for but that we win."
The fact that people might be disappointed when Peterson fails to crack 200 yards in a game could be attributed to the fact that Peterson himself is often critical when he misses out on such lofty goals.
"People say I am too hard on myself but that is just how I am," he said. "I feel like this last game [against Green Bay] I left yards on the field. Guys are saying to me it was a good game, and we won, which is more important, but I left yards on the field. I just get looks like, 'You ran for 192 yards, why are you complaining?'
"Those are the type of expectations I have for myself though. It doesn't bother me at all, it comes with the territory. Since I have been young, I have been able to establish that mindset of hey, don't let the outside world or people's opinions affect your play or affect you in a way that it changes your game or you are thinking about the wrong things. I just worry about what goes on here in the locker room as a team and I don't let the outside really affect me at all. It doesn't bother me."
With an outlook and skill set like Peterson's, it's no surprise that the Oklahoma product has burst onto the NFL scene like he has, quickly emerging as one of the league's elite backs.
He certainly hasn't surprised himself.
"I wouldn't say it's beyond my imagination because that is one thing that I envisioned when I came into the league, making a major impact and being one of the top guys in the league," Peterson said. "I really just envisioned it in my future and just worked hard to be able to come to those things. I came into a good situation here in Minnesota and the guys surrounding me, so just being with those guys has made things easier for me."