OWINGS MILLS – Adrian Peterson runs with bad intentions on his mind, consumed with punishing and embarrassing defenders.
The Minnesota Vikings’ gifted running back takes just as much satisfaction out of violently delivering a crushing shoulder or forearm blow as he does dancing away from linebackers with his elusive moves and uncommon speed.
For the Baltimore Ravens’ proud and traditionally stingy defense, it’s their task to contain one of the top runners in the game one week removed from allowing Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson to run roughshod over them for 120 yards and a touchdown during a 17-14 loss.
Although Benson is a good back, Peterson is in a class of his own with his rare blend of power, balance, vision, sprinting ability and toughness.
“This guy is obviously one of the premier running backs in the league,” Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “You give him a hole, and he’s going to take a mile off it. He’s a guy that can hit a home run. We have to play sound defense.”
Peterson rushed for 1,760 yards last season to win the NFL rushing title.
He owns the NFL single-game rushing record, gaining 296 yards against the San Diego Chargers as a rookie.
And he ranks second in the league with 481 rushing yards and has rushed for seven touchdowns to lead the NFL, averaging just under five yards per carry.
“Adrian Peterson is just phenomenal,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s hard to attack. He’s amazingly fast. He can run the ball really from the ‘A’ gap to the sideline at any time.
“You’ve got to be completely sound in your run defense and you’ve got to play great team run defense. You’ve got to run to the ball. You’ve got to tackle him with a bunch of guys.”
The defense’s pride is hurting after allowing Benson to break a league-high 39-game streak of not allowing an opposing runner to eclipse the century mark.
So, motivation shouldn’t be a problem.
“They gashed us,” Johnson said. “We were extremely proud of the streak. We take a lot of pride around here in stopping the run, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it. We had a bad game.”
Added nose guard Kelly Gregg: “We need to get that bad taste out of our mouth. We got out of our gaps.”
It’s not as if the Ravens haven’t been proven to be less than invulnerable before.
Last November, the Ravens were steamrolled by the New York Giants in a 30-10 defeat with the Giants piling up 207 rushing yards with Ahmad Bradshaw gaining 96 yards on nine carries and Brandon Jacobs rushing for 73 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries before leaving the game with an injury.
If not for Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson’s ankle injury during a playoff loss to Baltimore last season, he was on pace to gain well over 100 yards.
“Start another one, that’s what you do,” middle linebacker Ray Lewis said when asked about the end of the streak. “It’s not like a free throw, man. Some days you’re on, some days you’re going to miss. This business isn’t about dropping your head whether it’s a win or loss, whether you gave up a 100-yard rusher or not.”
After analyzing the game, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is convinced that the Ravens were pressing and freelancing too much in their zeal to make the tackle.
The Ravens wound up allowing 403 yards of total offense.
“The biggest thing in that game is we wanted it so much that some guys tried to make plays out of their gaps,” Mattison said. “Then what ends up happening is you lose your gap integrity instead of everybody saying, ‘OK, I’ve got this one, I’m going to play to here and the next guy plays to there.’”
The Ravens will need that kind of continuity and teamwork to corral Peterson.
Between his prototypical size at 6-foot-1, 217 pounds, strength and intensity, Peterson is the total package as a running back.
He can run through a big linebacker with mayhem on his mind. He can transform a football game into a track meet in the blink of an eye.
And Peterson possesses the imagination and instincts to make unconventional plays with his ability to cut back against the grain.
“When he runs the football, he runs the football with things on his mind,” Lewis said. “Just the way he plays football, he makes you appreciate the game.”
And Peterson was recently paid the ultimate compliment by Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown who said that Peterson is the NFL runner who comes the closest to approaching his blend of rugged tackle-breaking and breakaway speed.
“He’s on a different level,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said.
Peterson opened the season with 180 yards and three touchdowns against the Cleveland Browns.
And he ranks second in Vikings franchise history with 18 100-yard games in just 29 career starts.
Five games into his third NFL season, the former Oklahoma star has already rushed for 3,582 yards and 29 touchdowns.
So, the Ravens truly have their work cut out for them.
“We’re just going to start our streak back over,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “It’s tough to have a person do that to us, but we’re going to try to get back to what we do best, stopping the run and hopefully making a team one-dimensional.
“It’s going to show how good our defense is. It’s going to test our defense. We’re going to see what our defense is made of.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.