ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The last time Adrian Peterson ran the ball against the Broncos in their home at 5,280 feet, Peterson was a 22-year-old rookie, Mike Shanahan was the Broncos’ coach and the Brandon Marshall in uniform for the Broncos that day isn’t the Brandon Marshall who is the current team’s leading tackler.
Peterson had just 11 carries for 36 yards in that 2007 regular-season finale. His longest run in the 22-19 Broncos’ overtime win was all of 8 yards.
A lot has changed. Peterson has gone from heralded rookie to 10,481 career rushing yards, including a 2,097-yard season in 2012, and time marches on quickly in the NFL as there will not be a player in a Broncos uniform Sunday who was with the team in ’07.
In fact, because Peterson did not play in the 2011 meeting between the Broncos and the Vikings, Sunday in Sports Authority Field at Mile High will be the first time anyone on Denver’s defense will have faced Peterson as a Bronco.
“He’s a huge challenge,’’ Marshall said. “Arguably the best running back in the league and very hard to tackle. He breaks a lot of tackles, he’s fast, he’s quick and explosive. He’s just a guy that we have to swarm tackle … if you try to hit him soft, he’s going to bounce off you.’’
“We had better tackle well as a team,’’ Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “That's the biggest thing. … He's the best in the business, has been for a long time, and we know that he's going to touch it. We had better have everybody rallying to the football.’’
Peterson will amount to the sternest test thus far in the young season for the now No. 1 Broncos defense in terms of power. The Broncos have faced the speed of Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles.
And Charles has the four longest runs against the Broncos in the first three games, also the only four runs against the Broncos this season longer than 10 yards. Charles’ 34-yard run for a touchdown in Week 2, when rookie linebacker Shane Ray overpursued slightly at the point of attack, also represents the longest play from scrimmage, run or pass, against the Broncos this season.
“It’s going to be huge for us to just set the tempo and letting those guys know up front we’re here to play football and kind of get that mood set for what it’s going to be,’’ Peterson said. “ … I tell the guys all the time that you’re not going to win every play, you might lose three in a row. The only thing that I can ask of you is to get up, hit them in the mouth again and play physical. That sends a message to a guy, I don’t care how many times he’s whipping you.’’
One of the things the current Broncos defense has done better than in previous seasons is defend the run out of their specialty packages – the nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six defensive backs). In recent seasons teams like the New England Patriots have made it a point to put the Broncos in those lighter personnel groupings and then pound away at the defense.
This season the Broncos played their dime package against the Chiefs for 28 snaps (including penalty plays) and lined up with extra defensive backs in the formation 40 times last Sunday in the win over Detroit when the Lions rushed for 28 yards on 19 carries.
“Yeah, it's going to be a tough test for us,’’ Broncos safety T.J. Ward said. “He's obviously one of the best backs, if not the best back, in this league. We're going to have our hands full.’’