Hey guys, has anyone seen Adrian Peterson around? Oh wait, that's what was stuck to my shoe.
Welcome to this week's installment of Tale of the Tape. Since talking about our mastery of Brett Favre since Week 16, 2009 isn't going to do much to tell us about how we can save ourselves from the NFC North basement, I wanted to focus on one man in particular: Adrian Peterson. As a rookie, he ran all over the Bears, but we've done progressively better since. In the game we played against the Vikings at home last year, we held Peterson to a mere 51 yards on 17 carries, a statistic that is even more impressive considering he gained 20 yards on his second run, 19 yards on the next 15 attempts, and was only able to get to 51 with a 10 yard run in garbage time. How did we do it? Follow me below the fold, where I will break down every single run and look at how we can continue to achieve success against Peterson's one-man offense.
For your consideration, here is a breakdown of every run Peterson had in the game:
|Run #||Down/Distance||Running Behind
|1||1/10||RT||-2||Briggs||Adams forced play|
|2||2/12||RG||20||Briggs||Only big play - good blocking to outside|
|3||2/3||LG||4||Peppers||Peppers slides past O-line for tackle in A gap
|4||1/10||LE||3||Peppers||Tillman slows 28 as he goes for edge|
|5||2/7||RG||0||Peppers & Toeania||Urlacher blitz pushes play outside|
|6||3/7||RT||5||Adams||C. Harris good run support|
|7||1/10||RG||1||Harrison||backfield filled with Blue|
|8||1/10||RT||5||Adams||Tinoisamoa misses TFL chance|
|2/5||RE||1||Toeania||Vikings can't block d-line|
|10||1/10||RT||-1||Peppers||Shiancoe can't block Peppers - Toeania moves play to outside|
|11||1/10||RE||5||Tinoisamoa||snuck away from DE pressure in backfield|
|13||2/10||LE||-3||Adams||Bears everywhere in backfield again|
|14||2/10||RG||0||Adams||Briggs fills gap quickly to force inside|
|15||2/10||LT||0||Tinoisamoa||Peppers and Melton fill in run gaps well to free 59|
|16||1/10||RE||-2||Urlacher||Urlacher shoots gap perfectly|
|17||1/10||RG||10||Moore||Free yards against prevent coverage in garbage time|
They were attacking from the right side of their line twice as much as they did from the left, but the production they got from either side was fairly equal - they might have felt they had an advantage going right, but it did not pan out on the field. I was surprised at the breakdown of who was tackling Peterson. I figured it would be our linebackers getting most of the tackles, and while Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, and Pisa Tinoisamoa did make their presence known, it was our defensive line that did a majority (9 of 17) of the run-stopping. The key to the defensive line's success? Keeping Peterson in front of them. Having him as a run threat kept our defensive line from getting too far up the field - we had a whopping one sack by Henry Melton - but by slowing the rush down a bit and using linebackers to fill the gaps, we were able to pursue 28 from the sides and front of the play. The one time we let him get through the D-line without being touched or redirected, he was able to knock off a 20-yarder, so the loss of sack potential was more than worth the advantage in run containment.
The most common strategy in containing the run is the "eight in the box" you always here announcers going on about: dropping the strong safety down by the linebackers to provide extra stoutness in the middle. You might be somewhat surprised that the Bears brought eight into the box all of two times in the game with Peterson in the backfield, but consider what happened the first time the Bears did drop the safety down: Favre used play-action to hold Chris Harris just long enough to hit Percy Harvin in stride for a 53-yard touchdown play. The other time we loaded up the box, Favre again used play-action to draw us in and hit a screen pass to the outside to get around our numbers advantage in the middle. The Bears would occasionally toy with Favre by sneaking the safety up close to the linebackers and have him drop out before the snap, but motion by the linebackers was our biggest weapon of misdirection against their offense. On almost every play, either Urlacher or Briggs (or both) would move between the Lovie Smith classic "mug" look - having a linebacker or two lined up between the defensive tackles - and the even more classic Cover 2 formation. More often than not, and no matter where the linebackers were at the snap, at least one of them would looking for a gap to shoot and force the play away from their run blitz. This strategy was wildly successful: other than one play where Pisa wasn't able to wrap up Peterson in the backfield, when our linebackers got penetration, they were able to stop the play either on their own or by redirecting him into the heart of the defensive line.
The real key in stopping Peterson was the play of Julius Peppers and our defensive tackles. Peppers was keyed in to stop the run first and get upfield second, a fact you could see on the third Peterson run of the game: Peppers briefly engaged the left tackle, saw the run going inside, and slid down the line like a linebacker to make the stop. His lateral ability and speed allowed Lovie to play him like an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme: he would read the play and attack the formation accordingly, not just seal his edge by going upfield. The craziest match up on the field that game was when the Vikings tried to use Visanthe Shiancoe to run-block Julius Peppers out of the play. Peppers easily knocked him out of the way and made the tackle for a loss when Matt Toeaina forced Peterson to run straight into #90.
The lateral movement of the tackles was just as key as their ability to penetrate the backfield. By staying engaged to the middle of the line, Toeania and Anthony Adams were able to prevent the center and guards from pulling to block or generate enough push to open up holes in the center. They did get up field at times, but more often than not they simply waited for Peterson to get close, shed their blocker(s), and took him down.
You would think that the Bears would draw up some pretty elaborate schemes to stop the man known as Purple Jesus, but the best defense against him is fundamentally strong football by the front seven. While we haven't seen a lot of that this season, you have to hope that the Bears have what it will take to save ourselves from last place in the division with our third NFC North loss. If we are able to contain Peterson as well as we have in recent games, we are still vulnerable to the well-aged arm of Donovan McNabb - review last season's Redskins game for details - but I would take my chances against McNabb over Peterson any time. If Lovie is willing to forgo an aggressive pass-rush in favor of containing the run, Chicago will be able to contain (if not stop altogether) their single most potent offensive weapon. There's not much to be optimistic about this season so far, but this Sunday will be the fifth anniversary of the most famous Bears victory in the Lovie Smith era, the "they were who they thought we were" Monday Night game against the Arizona Cardinals. Let's hope the defense can come up just as big for this featured game as they did in that one.