When something unbelievable happens, there are plenty of theories explaining the unexplainable, like when a 32-year old running back, who hadn’t rushed for more than 40 yards since the very end of the 2015 season, runs for more than 100 yards behind the worst offensive line in the NFL.
RB Adrian Peterson’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was a fluke.
It very well could be. Tampa Bay is the 10th-best run-stopping defense in the league right now, but they’re not prone to keeping the running game under wraps. They’ve allowed more than 100 yards on the ground three times this season, more recently two in as many weeks.
But what we saw in Peterson against the Buccaneers was a veteran back who looks to have defied time. There wasn’t a misstep or a lapse in speed. His vision was sharp. His cuts were sharper.
And he could be the reason the Los Angeles Rams continue their losing streak in London.
Patience, patience, patience
As mentioned before, the Cardinals line is nothing to write home about. But against the Buccaneers, the line seemed to be on the same page and have more strength in their run-blocking. There were several instances where Peterson had a clear lane to run through.
But most of the time, that was not the case. The Bucs would clog up the lanes or be close to doing so, and Peterson would read both instances so well.
Peterson had great patience in this game, as well as a clear sense of calm. Other backs waiting for lanes or holes often just hop or stutter-step behind one lineman and be so nervous, they fail to see an opportunity briefly open up. In this game, that was not the case for Peterson.
Even on the fly, Peterson can take the lateral lane and run around the upcoming opposition that is a linebacker or defensive back. While he doesn’t have break-neck speed, Peterson still is fast enough to beat some defenders on the angle (except for the final defensive back).
Again, Peterson believes that he can find the opportunity, even as he’s rapidly approaching the sideline. On this play, he found the chance in a small cut to beat the corner on the edge for an 8-yard gain.
A small push and defensive mistakes are all it takes
The offensive line couldn’t do anything for their running backs before Peterson came along. Before the trade, the Cardinals were rushing for an average of about 51 yards-per-game, with one game above 51 yards coming against the Indianapolis Colts in Week Two (83 yards).
Against the Bucs, the Cardinals offensive line gave Peterson just enough for him to work with, and that’s all he needs.
Defenders are within grasp of Peterson, which obviously isn’t enough to bring him down.
On this play, AP takes advantage of No. 51’s bad read. The linebacker takes a step away from the play, allowing him to be taken out of the play. Bad linebacker play plagued the Bucs defense and allowed Peterson to gain 76 yards in the first quarter and 134 throughout the day.
If the interior defensive linemen can penetrate the offensive line consistently, the Cardinals will be forced to pass the ball, which is the preferred poison for the Rams defense that has struggled against the run.
One of the things the Bucs were able to do a handful of times was breaking up the play before or as it gets started.
DT Aaron Donald and DT Michael Brockers could have huge days. The Bucs defensive line is solid with DT Gerald McCoy being the leader and star, but the talent drops off after him. The Rams are stacked at the line and will have a greater chance of stopping AP behind the line than Tampa had.
LB’s Marc Barron, Alec Ogeltree and stand-up guys like Connor Barwin and Robert Quinn will also need to be on alert for the lanes opening up. The Rams linebackers need to be active all day to clog the lanes and pile on Peterson, because one guy cannot stop this running-attack on their own (based on last week’s game).
It’s foolish to assume that everything that happened to the Bucs won’t happen to the Rams based on the last few seasons for Peterson. With the New Orleans Saints, AP wasn’t putting up these numbers, but no one on their team was. The Saints only had one game of more than 100 yards on the ground with AP. Even with New Orleans, you could see the same characteristics of his running style that we saw when he ran against the Buccaneers.
The Rams run-defense needs to be more aware than anything else. A minor lapse will lead to a small chance, and that’s all Peterson needs.