Adrian Peterson gets the best of Falcons' No. 1-ranked run defense

The Falcons' eight-man fronts weren't enough to slow Adrian Peterson down on Sunday. AP Photo/David Goldman

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Atlanta Falcons entered Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings with the top-ranked run defense in the league, and they planned to try and slow Adrian Peterson down with a slew of eight-man fronts, as they grow into coach Dan Quinn's adaptation of the scheme he ran in Seattle.

But even though the Falcons loaded up to try and stop Peterson, the running back had the last laugh.

Peterson got 73 of his 158 yards with eight or more defenders in the box in Sunday's 20-10 win over the Falcons, according to ESPN Stats and Information. It took him 19 carries against a loaded box to get those yards; that's five more carries against an eight-man box than any player in the NFL has seen this season, and it was the second-most Peterson's had in one game in the past five years. The running back has the top four games in that span with the most carries against an eight-man box.

A week after Peterson had carried just 13 times for 45 yards in a loss to the Green Bay Packers, losing a fumble that he was still blaming himself for on Sunday, the NFL's leading rusher put up 71 more yards against the Falcons than any other back has this year, finishing the day with 158 yards on 29 carries.

"I see why these guys are No. 1 in rushing defense,” Peterson said. “Our guys up front took it personally and my fullback [Zach Line] took it personal. We wanted to come out and establish the run because we felt that gave us the best chance of winning.”

Here are some notes and observations on the offense from Sunday's win:

Total offensive plays: 70


Notes: As Teddy Bridgewater continued to look for tight end Kyle Rudolph and got his running backs more involved in the passing game, Diggs and Wright were the only receivers he targeted on Sunday. Bridgewater looked for Wallace on two plays that didn't count as passes once the Falcons were flagged for pass interference, and Diggs caught all four passes Bridgewater tried for him, gaining 10 yards on a pair of quick hitters on the game's first drive and finishing with 31 yards. Wright's two catches went for 13 yards, and included an eight-yard conversion on a 3rd-and-4 in the fourth quarter after Bridgewater pointed out a Falcons blitz. Atlanta brought five defenders, and Wright slipped behind Rudolph out of a stack alignment and got open over the middle. With Johnson getting most of the work in the Vikings' '22' personnel (two running backs, two tight ends, one receiver), Cordarrelle Patterson didn't see an offensive snap for the first time in his three-year career.

Running backs

Notes: In his return to his hometown, McKinnon was more involved than he's been for much of the season. He gained 33 yards on five carries, posting his second-highest yardage total of the season. Line tied his season high with 19 snaps, catching an eight-yard pass from Bridgewater and paving the way for Peterson. Asiata caught three passes for 17 yards.

Tight ends

Notes: Rudolph wasn't getting many targets earlier this season as the Vikings asked him to help in pass protection. The past two weeks, however, they've gotten the tight end more involved; he's caught 13 of his 36 passes in the past two weeks, and had a season-high seven catches on Sunday. Bridgewater hit Rudolph on a pair of play-action passes, and found him for 13 yards on a rollout. Ellison had the Vikings' longest pass play of the day on a tight end screen late in the first half. The Vikings had two or more tight ends on the field for seven of their first 10 snaps. Both Ellison and Rudolph had strong down blocks on Peterson's first run of the game, when Peterson gained 11 yards, and Ellison was out in front of Peterson on his 35-yard TD that sealed the game.


Notes: Bridgewater did most of his work with the kind of short passing game that seems to be working for him; he was off-target on a season-low four percent of his throws, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Of Bridgewater's 174 passing yards, 131 came after the catch. The Vikings clearly had committed to the run, but they were able to built a complementary passing game by letting their receivers pick up yards off short throws. Bridgewater didn't have to make as many plays with his feet, and was only hit three times all day. And counting a pair of screens that netted 41 yards, Bridgewater was 6-for-8 off play action for 79 yards. He underthrew the ball to Rudolph on Ricardo Allen's interception, throwing the ball even though his pump fake didn't get Allen to move off Rudolph. But he had a big hand in the Vikings going 7-for-12 on third downs. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Vikings are 6-0 when Bridgewater throws for fewer than 200 yards. It's counterintuitive, but it's working.

Offensive line:

Notes: Sunday wasn't going to be the line's toughest task in pass protection, but the Vikings didn't give up a sack, and Bridgewater was hit just three times (though he was under pressure 41 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats and Information). The group, and the Vikings' tight ends, also helped Peterson post 3.31 yards per carry before contact. Kalil, Fusco and Harris had second-level blocks on Peterson's touchdown run, slowing the pursuit of linebackers Philip Wheeler and Paul Worrilow and safety William Moore.