No play from the Vikings’ 26-16 victory over Detroit on Sunday showed the impact Adrian Peterson has on a defense more than one where he didn’t even touch the ball.
Early in the second quarter, after Peterson had been stopped short on consecutive runs, the Vikings left their offense out on the field for fourth-and-goal from the 1. When quarterback Teddy Bridgewater faked a handoff to Peterson, who followed fullback Zach Line into the middle of the line, nine Lions defenders converged on Peterson.
But Bridgewater kept the ball and bootlegged toward the left pylon. As he eyed tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was open on the play, the only person standing between him and the end zone was Brandon Fusco. The big guard looked left then right for someone to block before deciding to simply throw up his hands in celebration.
“It was like a walk in the park,” Bridgewater said about his 1-yard touchdown run.
The Vikings pummeled the Lions with Peterson early and often Sunday, so of course the Lions were bracing for another run on that fourth-down play. Bridgewater and the offensive line also did an excellent job of selling the fake.
That was one of a few memorable examples of how Peterson was able to affect the Lions without carrying the ball, though he did plenty of that Sunday, too.
The Vikings intended to get Peterson involved right from the get-go, something they didn’t do in their season-opening loss at San Francisco. They didn’t necessarily plan on him touching the ball 31 times. But in rushing for 199 yards as a team, the Vikings displayed the kind of physicality coach Mike Zimmer has wanted to see from the offense for a while.
“We’re trying to develop that mentality — that toughness and the physicality,” Zimmer said. “That’s what we want to be like as a football team.”
But one of the things that makes football beautiful, at least when everything goes as planned, is the interplay between that kind of brute force and clever deception.
Take wide receiver Jarius Wright’s 29-yard run in the first quarter.
Peterson already had carried the ball 11 times when the Vikings lined up in the shotgun with Peterson to Bridgewater’s left. Bridgewater handed it to Peterson and Detroit defenders flooded toward Peterson like a school of fish chasing a chunk of bread. Peterson then flipped the ball to Wright, who sprinted around left end for the big gain.
“If they want to try to wait until you say ‘hut’ and run toward Adrian, we’ll always have a little something for teams that overplay him,” Wright said.
Peterson’s presence also created opportunities for Bridgewater in the passing game.
Bridgewater completed six of his seven play-action attempts against the Lions for 86 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. And through two games with Peterson, Bridgewater has a 92.1 passer rating on play-action passes.
Last season, without Peterson, Bridgewater completed only 56.4 of his play-action attempts with a 3-to-5 touchdown-to-interception differential and a 63.8 passer rating.
“I think it’s important because, as you saw during the course of the ballgame, they started dropping the safety [down] a lot more so that they can get some extra guys in the box and then it starts opening up some other areas,” Zimmer said of the play-action passing game.
He added: “Part of it is, too, you’ve got be able to run against extra guys in the box at times, which we did several times [Sunday]. The great backs they say, ‘Give me the extra guy,’ and [Peterson] did that some as well.”
In Week 1, Peterson got just 10 carries, in part because Bridgewater checked into pass plays when the 49ers loaded the box. Against the Lions, the Vikings made sure Peterson was their offensive focal point, and he responded with 134 yards on 29 carries and two catches for 58 yards.
Those were impressive numbers, no doubt. But the boxscore didn’t tell the whole story of Peterson’s impact.
“Now with Adrian back, [opponents] know they are going to have to respect him no matter who they are or where they are on the field,” Wright said.