Ryan Pickett watched in amazement. He was not alone.
The Green Bay Packers watch lots of film during the course of the week. There’s film from their own previous game, off which they make corrections. They watch film of practice, to further evaluate themselves. And they watch a myriad of video of their upcoming opponents. One subcategory of that enemy film is something called cut-ups, which are a series of clips of the same types of plays. And on Wednesday, Pickett and his fellow defensive linemen were watching a bunch of the Minnesota Vikings’ running plays, starring Vikings All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson.
“We were watching the run cut-ups – and it’s like a highlight reel,” the Packers veteran defensive tackle said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m like, ‘Wow, what is this?’ He’s averaging almost 6 yards a carry. That’s unheard of.
“We normally watch cut-ups just to get a feel of what plays they run. It was like, every run he was about breaking for a touchdown. It was crazy. The guy’s looking good.”
“The way he runs with (such) physicality, you can see it in his face that he’s looking to deliver the blow more so than take it,” Packers safety Morgan Burnett said. “He has good vision and he’s not going to only use his power to run you over but he’s capable of making good cuts and making moves in the open field.”
All of this should be old news, of course, about Peterson, given that the guy was chosen for the Pro Bowl in four of his first five NFL seasons, has been an All-Pro twice and has been considered one of the league’s best backs since arriving as the No. 7 overall pick in 2007.
Except for one little thing: He’s looking so good – leading the NFL in rushing with 1,236 yards on 213 carries (5.8-yard average) with seven touchdowns – less than a year removed from tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee. Peterson suffered the injury last Dec. 24 in a Christmas Eve game against Washington, vowed to be back for the regular-season opener and delivered. After a relatively slow start, he’s put together five consecutive 100-yard games.
“I'm really amazed. All of us were hoping that he would come back and be a good player. But to come back and – what are we (in), Week 13? – and he's the best running back in the National Football League as far as yards. It's an amazing feat,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters. “When you consider the impact an ACL injury can have on a guy's career, especially a running back, I'm amazed. But he's that type of player, that type of person. He continues to amaze me.
“He was so focused on coming back and being even better than he was before the surgery. I'd venture to say that's not like any guy who's a pro athlete. He's just special. Special.”
And it will require a special effort to slow him down, as the Packers well know. He has registered five of his 34 career 100-yard rushing games against the Packers, and the only reason why Peterson’s career rushing total against the Packers isn’t the highest of any opponent is because Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field will be the teams’ first meeting of the season.
Peterson comes in having rushed for 1,033 yards on 202 carries (5.1-yard average) in 10 games against the Packers, second only to his production against the Detroit Lions (217 carries, 1,165 yards, 5.4-yard average), whom he’s already played twice this season and now 11 times in his career.
“Going through this ACL is the most serious injury I’ve had. The recovery for me was knowing that I was starting over, pretty much,” Peterson said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters Wednesday. “It made me hungrier than I already was. This offseason, I definitely learned how to take it to a different level.
“(But) I haven’t surprised myself. It’s surprising people around me, which puts a smile on my face. These are things that I set out forth to accomplish – to come back stronger and better to help my team. I knew that I could do it (but) a lot of people didn’t. I also know that it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks, as long as you focus on what you want to accomplish. Whatever it is, you can get it done. It’s simple.”
What the Packers want to accomplish, of course, is slowing Peterson down, and they have done it in the past. After watching him run through them for 175 yards on 24 carries at the Metrodome in their first meeting last year, the Packers held Peterson to 51 yards on 14 carries in the rematch at Lambeau Field. After he carried 28 times for 131 yards in the teams’ first meeting in 2010 at Lambeau Field, he was held to 72 yards on 14 carries at the Metrodome in the second meeting.
He had 50 carries for 152 yards in two games against the Packers in 2009, after having 100-yard games in three of his first four games against them in 2007 and 2008. (The one game he failed to reach 100 yards, an 11-carry, 45-yard effort in 2007, was because he left the game with a knee injury.)
“I think he’s better (now), scary to say,” Pickett said. “I already thought he was the best back, hands down, in the league, and now he’s looking better on tape. I was shocked when we started watching tape on him. He’s running the ball real hard and he’s breaking a lot of tackles. He’s a great back.
“That’s been in my mind the whole year. I’ve been shocked. I’m like, ‘Wow, he blew his knee out.’ You just don’t expect to see him do the things he’s doing. This has probably one of his better years he’s ever had. He’s running the ball great.”
And adding to the Packers’ challenge: While Pickett is expected to play despite missing practice Wednesday with a quadriceps injury, defensive end C.J. Wilson will miss the game with a knee injury he suffered last Sunday night against the New York Giants. In that game, the Packers surrendered 147 yards rushing, and the fact that their two best run-stuffing defensive linemen spent practice Wednesday on elliptical machines wasn’t exactly encouraging.
“Peterson is a challenge for any team. We talk about him all the time, all throughout the year,” Wilson said Wednesday. “He's a great running back, a great guy to watch. He's very explosive, he doesn’t have too many weaknesses. It's going to be a real tough challenge for us.
“It's a horrible feeling knowing I won't be able to play Sunday and help the team with my defense, to stop this beast.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.