Christl/Baranczyk analysis: Peterson's big day courtesy of Williams' timid play

Dec. 31, 2012

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Unless the Green Bay Packers sit cornerback Tramon Williams on obvious running downs, look for Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to hit the 200-yard range again on Saturday. Lukas Keapproth/Press Gazette Media


As a rule of thumb, playoff games are either won by great players making big plays or lost by bad players being exploited unmercifully.

Sundayís regular-season finale had almost a playoff vibe to it and thatís exactly what happened as the Minnesota Vikings nipped the Green Bay Packers at the wire.

Adrian Peterson played his alter ego, Superman, and erased the difference between Aaron Rodgers and Christian Ponder. Heís the only offensive player in the league capable of doing that.

But if not for Tramon Williams, Peterson might not have been up to the task. As great as he is, Peterson wouldnít have gained anywhere near 409 yards in two games against the Packers this season if not for Williamsí poor play against the run.

In the first game, Peterson exploded for an 82-yard touchdown when the Vikings lined up with two tight ends and no wide receiver to Williamsí side of the field to put him in a run-force position. This time, the Vikings repeatedly used formations and motion to take advantage of Williamsí timid play.

Often, playoff goats are third or fourth corners who get picked apart in coverage or some other unfit player at a crucial position who simply canít handle his matchup. But occasionally good players ó someone like Williams ó will lose games because of one glaring shortcoming.

Run defense

There probably wasnít a single player on defense who didnít miss a tackle. That happens to everybody against Peterson. But for the most part, the line played well. B.J. Raji, in particular, blew up several plays. There were times A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones didnít wrap up, but they were solid. Erik Walden was caught out of position a bit, but nothing terrible. Clay Matthews played his typical game. Morgan Burnett filled and tackled well for the most part.

Any good back will get linebackers and safeties to overcommit and miss on occasion. But, generally speaking, if a defense covers its gaps, itís going to be in good shape. If it doesnít, even if itís just one player out of 11, a good back will make a team pay and Peterson will destroy it.

What the Vikings did was line up with tight ends or a wingback across from Williams and put him in primary contain against the run. When thereís no split wide receiver to his side, Williams lines up at linebacker depth and reads the tight endís helmet. Thatís Football 101. If the corner sees the tight endís helmet drop in those formations, itís a run and he has to charge the line of scrimmage.

Letís be clear. The Vikings didnít do that every play. They also lined up in their conventional sets with a wide receiver to Williamsí side. But there, too, they attacked Williams in the run game by stalk-blocking him. A stalk block is when a wide receiver waits for a corner to come up and then attacks him. Williams either canít beat that block or doesnít want to.

Bottom line: The Vikings game-planned to attack Williams unrelentingly and not always by running right at him. Either way, Petersonís mindset was clear: Know where No. 38 is at all times and if you have to cut back, do it in his gap.

Williams might not have been largely at fault every time, but his fingerprint was somewhere on almost every one of Petersonís big runs. Williamsí unwillingness to fill an alley or even play contain and take on a pulling lineman or the fullback allowed Peterson to either cut inside the block or step back and run around it.

First quarter, 13:39 to go, Peterson gets stuck, spins outside and Williams is slow to drop coverage and beat his receiver back to the ball. Had he done so and stayed to Petersonís outside shoulder, he might have given the pursuit time to catch up after seven, eight yards. Instead Peterson gains 12. Second series, second-and-4, no wide receiver to Williamsí side. Jones misses the tackle, but Williams doesnít attack the block, takes a poor angle off it and, boom, 22 yards for Peterson. By losing leverage, Williams gave Peterson a free pass to the sideline.

Third offensive series, fourth-and-1, maybe Hawk should make the tackle, but Williams needs to fill hard and doesnít. Peterson gains six.

Second quarter, 1:26 left, Peterson pops outside again and gains 18. Burnett and Walden miss tackles, but Williams is slow to fill and gives a half-hearted effort. Third quarter, the Vikingsí first offensive play, Peterson gains 20. Tight end to Williamsí side, no outside receiver; Williams is at linebacker depth and provides no fill.

Next possession, Peterson gains 28 with Williams putting forth no effort to make the tackle. That was a huge play. It was second-and-27 and the Vikings finished the drive with a touchdown. Fourth quarter, 11:26 to go, Williams is again at linebacker depth with no wide receiver to his side and Peterson runs at him for 12.

Thatís a play, for example, where a corner like Charles Woodson will attack the pulling guard at the knees or below and make a pile that maybe Peterson couldnít get through. All Williams did was put his hands on the lead blocker and get pushed back, thereby creating the seam. Peterson turned it up for 12 yards with Williams running along with him.

If that happens again Saturday, Peterson will be in the 200-yard range again. But thatís not something a coach can cover up with an adjustment. Those arenít physical mistakes. If a guy doesnít want to tackle thatís a conscious decision.

Considering the Vikings have nothing but subpar wide receivers and little chance of beating the Packers unless Peterson runs wild against them for a third time, it might be worth sitting Williams on all running downs and playing Woodson or even Davon House if theyíre healthy.

The offense

The best and only way to stop Peterson is to get up on the Vikings early and force them to throw the ball. Thatís why the Packers might need to rethink some things.

If they win the toss, maybe they shouldnít defer. They canít start their first two series running a tortoise ó a back nobody in the league wanted ó into the middle of the line. Cut Aaron Rodgers loose from the get-go.

DuJuan Harris is explosive enough to still keep a defense honest. He does a good job of reading blocks and hitting the hole. Heís compact, dense and runs low to the ground. Heís hard for defenders to grab a hold of or get a solid hit on.

If Randall Cobb is back, the Vikings are going to struggle to cover everybody. They couldnít do it with Cobb out. The line is better off with Evan Dietrich-Smith. Plus, the receivers are blocking well.

Don Barclayís late meltdown has to be a concern. That canít happen with a game on the line. But three of the Vikingsí five sacks were largely or partly Rodgersí fault for holding the ball too long, and a fourth was somewhat of a fluke where Rodgers and Barclay got their feet tangled.

Former Press-Gazette sports editor Cliff Christl and former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offer their analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week.

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