View Full Version : Potent Peterson a test for Steelers defense

10-25-2009, 01:24 AM
Potent Peterson a test for Steelers defense

Sunday, October 25, 2009
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 49743.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_649743.html)

Brett Favre has so far been the equivalent of the final piece of the puzzle for the Vikings. But with all due respect to the NFL's all-time passing leader, Minnesota's offense revolves around running back Adrian Peterson.

And something will have to give today when the Vikings visit the Steelers for a showdown between one of the NFL's four unbeaten teams and its reigning Super Bowl champion.

The Steelers are second in the NFL in rushing defense (74.5 yards per game), and they haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Fred Taylor gashed them for 147 in December 2007. The Steelers' streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher it stands at 28 games will be tested by Peterson, who leads the NFL in rushing and is averaging 103 yards per game.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called Peterson "arguably the best football player in the world" during his weekly ritual of heaping praise on the opposition.

In Peterson's case, it might not be hyperbole.

In fewer than three seasons, Peterson has established a new NFL single-game rushing record (296 yards), been compared to some of the immortals at his position and picked up the nickname "Purple Jesus."

That is not to say the 6-foot-1, 217-pounder can walk on water, but he possesses a devastating combination of power and speed, and he plays running back with the nastiness of a linebacker.

"I think he has a combination unlike any other player right now," Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said. "He's the most complete running back I've ever seen."

Peterson, if he stays healthy, appears destined to go down as one the great running backs ever to play the game, and he apparently isn't just at his best when he is tormenting opposing defenses.

"He doesn't have any diva qualities," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "For an NFL running back, it's hard to practice on Wednesday. He practices every Wednesday; he doesn't stand around with his hands in his sweatpants. He enjoys the competition. He's always got a smile on his face. Great competitor doesn't care if you're throwing it 60 times or running it."

The grounded side of Peterson surfaced last week during a conference call with Pittsburgh reporters when told of what Tomlin had said about him.

"I just have the ultimate respect for him as a coach, and to hear him say something like that makes me feel good," Peterson said. "But at the same time, it is humbling for me to understand to stay on the path that I am on, working hard, and with God willing, the sky is the limit."

That Peterson has been nicknamed after a higher being seems appropriate because evidence strongly suggests that someone upstairs was wearing purple on April 28, 2007.

Six teams passed on Peterson, allowing the Vikings to snatch him with the seventh overall pick of the NFL Draft. Among the players taken ahead of Peterson were quarterback JaMarcus Russell, defensive end Gaines Adams and offensive tackle Levi Brown.

It didn't take Peterson long to show that he was the best player in that draft. He set an NFL record for a rookie by rushing for 1,036 yards in his first eight games. He hasn't slowed down since that blazing start to his career.

"No disrespect to anybody that I've played with, (but) he is by far the best running back that I've ever seen," said Favre, who is in his 19th NFL season. "He's big. He's explosive. He can stop and hit full speed in two steps, and he is just relentless. It is unfair to rank him with Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, those guys, because he still has some catching up to do. But he is outstanding."

Favre's arrival in Minnesota has only made Peterson more dangerous as the Vikings now have the kind of passing game that will make opposing defenses think twice about loading up to stop the run.

The Vikings' balance isn't the only thing that adds to the Steelers' degree of difficulty when it comes to containing Peterson.

The Steelers lost a key cog of their run defense a couple of weeks ago when Aaron Smith sustained a season-ending shoulder injury. The Steelers may find out today how much they miss Smith, one of the top 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL.

"Up front, they've got to stop the run," Clark said of defending Peterson. "We're not going to be able to be down there eight in the box, nine in the box all the time because of the way Brett's playing right now, so it's going to be difficult."

A better back ...

The Steelers face Adrian Peterson, widely considered the top running back in the NFL, at 1 p.m. today at Heinz Field. Peterson, to hear those who gush about the Vikings superstar, has many of the same qualities possessed by the greatest backs ever to play the game. That got us to thinking about what the perfect or at least most unstoppable running back would look like if you could mix and match from different players. Call him a "robo" back. Let the arguments commence.

Mind: Emmitt Smith

Of the many attributes possessed by the NFL's all-time leading rusher, perhaps none surpassed Smith's approach to the game and his sheer toughness. Smith separated his shoulder against the Giants in 1993 but returned to the game and rushed for 113 yards after the injury.

Quotable: "He was going to keep coming back no matter how hard you hit him. That takes away from a defense, especially when you're giving him your best shot every time, and he's getting up laughing at you." Steelers running back Willie Parker, a big Smith fan while growing up

Vision: Tony Dorsett

They didn't call the Hopewell and Pitt graduate "The Hawk" for nothing. Dorsett's keen vision made him a threat to go all the way every time he touched the ball. It also allowed him to avoid the kind of big hits that can shorten a running back's career.

Quotable: It's like he had this sixth sense or eyes in the back of his head. Nobody ever hit him head on." former Cowboys director of player personnel Gil Brandt, whose team took Dorsett in the first round of the 1977 NFL draft

Upper body: Jim Brown

A physical mismatch for most players charged with stopping him, Brown's average of 5.2 yards a carry is the best among the NFL's top 30 leading rushers.

Quotable: "I don't know who you would have who was put together any better. He was better in the fourth quarter than he was in the first. He had everything." Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who played against Brown

Hands: Marshall Faulk

One of the best all-around backs in NFL history, Faulk finished his career with more than 10,000 yards rushing and over 5,000 yards receiving. In 1999, when he helped the Rams win the Super Bowl, the elusive Faulk eclipsed 1,000 yards as both a runner and a receiver.

Quotable: "He had the hands of a wide receiver." Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians

Hips: Walter Payton

The player dubbed as "Sweetness" was anything but that to opposing defenses. Payton, who is second on the NFL's all-time rushing list, gave as many shots as he took. His hips allowed him to run over defenders as well as leave them grasping for air when they tried to tackle him.

Quotable: "Payton's hips made the man. First, the power he generated from his hips and legs was vital to his ability to run between the tackles, and then the ability to fool defenders in the open field around end made people miss." Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King

Thighs: Earl Campbell

His power made Campbell nearly impossible to arm tackle, and he generated much of it through his legs. Campbell became the first back to lead the NFL in rushing three consecutive seasons 1978-80). His thighs were seemingly made of steel.

Quotable: "Earl used those powerful thighs to run over and through his opponents. The mark of a great runner is not to get tackled on first contact, and Earl was one of the best in the game of football at doing this." former Steelers strong safety Donnie Shell, who played against Campbell

Feet: Barry Sanders

Sanders made the kind of cuts that are only seen on video games. He may have broken the NFL all-time rushing record had he not retired abruptly in 1999. Former NFL defensive end Marcellus Wiley said he and his teammates would always put extra tape on their ankles for protection before playing against Sanders.

Quotable: "Seriously, he had to have some form of other species involved. It was like a cheetah. His ability to shake defenders in the hole, not just in the open field ... he was just kind of a Houdini in the hole." Wiley