This wasn’t quite the same as holding Barry Sanders to negative rushing yardage, but considering what Adrian Peterson did to the Green Bay Packers in the regular-season finale six days earlier, it sufficed.
Less than a week after the Minnesota Vikings running back rushed for 199 yards against them and in the process came up just 9 yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season NFL record, the Green Bay Packers cut that total more than in half and rendered him — and his team’s offense — ineffective in Saturday’s 24-10 NFC wild-card victory at Lambeau Field.
Though no one on the current roster was around when the Packers held Sanders, the Detroit Lions standout running back, to minus-1 yards rushing in a 1994 wild-card victory, they drew great satisfaction from the giant improvements they made against one of the all-time great running backs.
Peterson, who had 409 of his 2,097 regular-season rushing yards in the two games against the Packers, was finally held under 100 yards. He carried 22 times for 99 yards, a 4.5-yard average, and had a long run of just 18 yards.
The difference this time around?
“Everyone just trusted each other more,” Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “The last game, we had a tendency to do too much against a great player like that, and his lateral agility tends to take advantage of you if you try to do too much. I think this time, we trusted each other and stayed in our lanes and let him come to us.”
That the Vikings were without starting quarterback Christian Ponder, who was a surprise game-time scratch due a sore throwing elbow, played right into the hands a defense that wanted to focus on stopping Peterson. Though Ponder is by no means a prolific passer, he would have been much of a threat to throw the ball down the field than his backup, Joe Webb, who completed just three passes in the first half and only 11 total for the game.
The Packers did almost no prep work for Webb in practice last week. But without having to worry about getting beat deep in the passing game, defensive coordinator Dom Capers made one important change on the fly: He decided to bring a safety up near the line of scrimmage on almost every play.
Perhaps just as important was the fact that one of those safeties was Charles Woodson. Playing for the first time since he broke his collarbone on Oct. 21 against St. Louis, Woodson stayed at safety in both the base and the nickel packages, moving to a slot cornerback position only in the dime. Woodson often could be found creeping up near the line of scrimmage shortly before the ball was snapped. And if Woodson didn’t do it, then fellow safety Morgan Burnett did.
“That was for Adrian,” Woodson said, “not the quarterback.”
Decked out in oversized shoulder pads to protect his collarbone, Woodson recorded six tackles, including one for a loss. Only cornerback Sam Shields (seven tackles) made more stops than Woodson. Defensive end C.J. Wilson also was credited with six tackles.
“The only difference between this week and last week was we made the tackles,” Woodson said. “If the first guy wasn’t there or if the first guy didn’t make the tackle, the next guy made the tackle. We did a great job of gang tackling. We didn’t let him break through the line of scrimmage and make people miss. We limited those yards after contact, which he’s so good at. Last week, guys were aggressive. But this week we made it count.”
It provided redemption for those on defense, such as cornerback Tramon Williams, who struggled to bring Peterson down in last Sunday’s loss at the Metrodome. Williams was among a group of defensive players that either missed tackles or appeared unwilling to get as physical as necessary with Peterson in the regular-season finale.
“We know the mistakes we made; it wasn’t a lack of effort,” Williams said. “It was more too much effort. You have to slow yourself down. A lot of guys try to get to the ball so fast that the guy has such great vision that he can make cuts and get to the outside so quickly. A lot of guys kept their gap control, and I think that was the difference. We kept him bottled up and made him run inside the tackles.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.