Ordinarily, the Seattle Seahawks players and fans get to watch with glee as their powerhouse running back steamrolls defenders and pushes the pile downfield. Against the Vikings in Minnesota Sunday, the steamroller will be coming from the opposite direction.
There’s no denying that RB Marshawn Lynch is one of the best backs in the NFL when healthy. There is also no denying that the man atop the chart is Adrian Peterson, Lynch’s bigger, heavier, faster counterpart.
Both were first-round choices in the 2007 draft, Oklahoma’s Peterson taken seventh by the Vikings, and Cal’s Lynch 12th by the Buffalo Bills. It seems like for every accolade Lynch has accrued, Peterson has been a step or so ahead.
Lynch is a five-time Pro Bowler, Peterson has been tabbed six times. Lynch has one first-team All-Pro honor, Peterson has three. Even in the 40-yard dash Peterson prevails. Peterson runs 4.4 seconds while Lynch is a shade behind at 4.46.
Peterson finds the end zone more than Lynch, with 94 rushing touchdowns to Lynch’s 74, despite the former’s suspension for all but one game in 2014 stemming from a notorious case of child abuse that created a national controversy.
Peterson is the No. 10 rushing scorer of all time, while Lynch is the second-best among active running backs. While Lynch likely isn’t troubled over the comparisons, particularly with a Super Bowl ring on his finger, the Seahawks defense might be.
Coach Pete Carroll said that Peterson, the NFL’s top rusher with 1,164 yards, is his defense’s point of attack heading into Sunday.
“(Peterson) poses every problem you could ever want,” said Carroll Wednesday. “They know it; they feature him exactly like you’d think they should. They’re going to come at you, and you better get the line of scrimmage right. That’s a huge challenge for us.
“They block well, they’ve got good schemes. It’s very difficult. So the whole game for us defensively starts there.”
More than most, DE Cliff Avril knows what challenges are ahead. He ran into Peterson frequently—figuratively and literally—during his five-year stint in the NFC North with the Detroit Lions. Avril said containing Peterson is a chore.
“(Tackling Peterson) is hard, he’s a heck of a back,” he said. “He’s a big dude, he’s almost as big as me. Whenever you collide into someone like that, you’re going to feel it just as much as he does.
“It’s all about gang-tackling him, and not allowing any of the extra yards that he gets (after contact).”
Ganging up is about the only hope. LB Bobby Wagner, third in the league in tackle-assists in 2015 who has played Peterson twice before (in 2012 and 2013), said he looks forward to the challenge.
“It’s fun tackling him,” said Wagner. “He runs very hard, he’s an aggressive runner similar to Marshawn. It’s going to be an exciting match-up.”
Avril said there’s a difference between Beast Mode and All Day.
“They’re two different styles,” said Avril. “Marshawn really doesn’t really get outside the tackles. AP will try to get out on the corners and make them tackle him. That’s the only difference.”
If Peterson, averaging 105.8 yards per game this season, has a weakness, it’s ball security. He has coughed up the ball five times, more than any other running back in the league. Freeing Peterson, named NFC player of the month after carrying 117 times for 634 yards in November, of the ball will be a Seattle priority.
Lynch is sitting out this duel as he recuperates from hernia surgery, and may not play again this season. Peterson will be front and center for the Seahawks defense, for which he has much respect.
“These guys have been to the Super Bowl the last two years and they have eight guys that played that are still on the team,” he said via teleconference. “It’s a team that’s similar. They play fast, they play aggressive, they’ve got Pro Bowl caliber players on all levels.
“So it’s going to be a nice challenge for us and I’m looking forward to playing against a good defense.”