I wouldn't argue if you wanted to use the word "atrocious" to describe the Green Bay Packers' tackling in their Week 13 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings. Tailback Adrian Peterson gained two-thirds of his yards after first contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- a fancy way of saying the Packers had their chances to hold him well below the 210 yards he piled up.
That's not to take anything away from Peterson, who leads the NFL with 932 yards after contact this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But several factors suggest he will have a harder time pulling off a similar performance in Sunday's critical rematch at the Metrodome.
First, Peterson nearly doubled his average yards after contact per carry against the Packers. When you have a player who is already running away with the NFL lead in a statistical category perform so far above his average, you wonder if there were other factors contributing to his success.
A likely possibility: Linebacker Clay Matthews didn't play in that Week 13 game, and if we've learned anything about the Packers this season, it's that Matthews is one of their most indispensable players. We've noted several times how much better the Packers' pass rush has been in the games Matthews has played, but I also think his presence in run defense -- particularly his sure tackling -- is a vastly under-discussed part of his game.
In the four games Matthews missed because of a hamstring injury, opponents averaged 5.5 yards per carry against the Packers (632 yards on 115 carries). In two games since he has returned, that average has dipped to 3.38 yards per carry.
Matthews has been in on a total of nine tackles over those two games, but it's worth noting that our friends at Pro Football Focus have debited him with only one missed tackle in 686 snaps this season, the fifth-best percentage among 3-4 outside linebackers.
Meanwhile, Peterson was not his normal self last Sunday against the Houston Texans. He sat out two days of practice because abdomen and groin injuries, and it was worth noting the Vikings replaced him at the end of the game, presumably to limit the pounding he had already taken in 25 carries.
As it turned out, Peterson had one of the worst games of his career in terms of breaking tackles. He gained 23 yards after contact, and that average of 0.9 yards per carry after contact was his lowest since Week 7 of the 2009 season. Peterson ripped off a 21-yard run on the game's second play and later had a 20-yarder, meaning the Texans held him to 45 yards on his other 23 carries.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier credited the elite Texans defensive line, noting that "there aren't a lot of people that have J.J. Watt on their team" and added: "We'll see similar schemes, but if you don't have similar personnel, good luck." But it's only fair to wonder if Peterson was at something less than his usual physical state as well.
We can only imagine how pumped up Peterson will be for a Week 17 win-and-in game at home. Elite athletes can will themselves to great performances, but we should at least note that the Packers will be better-equipped to defend him than they were earlier this month.