Play with him, play for him, play against him, coach against him — no matter what your experience or connection with Adrian Peterson, everyone who’s come into contact comes to the same conclusion.
“He’s just a beast,” Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said. “You look at guys that are physically impressive across the league — we’ve got a couple of them in here when you look at (Julius Peppers) or Cam (Newton) — and then Adrian Peterson...
“You don’t really gotta explain him a whole lot.”
Peterson, in his 12th NFL season and first with Washington, has accomplished just about everything you’d want in a running back during his illustrious career:
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Lead the league in rushing? Done it ... three times.
Rush for 2,000 yards? Yep ... and he came within 8 yards of the all-time single-season record in the process.
Top 10 all-time in rushing yards? Check ... and by the end of this season, he might be eighth or ninth.
So Peterson has more than earned his accolades.
And that dominance has only continued this season for Washington, albeit under slightly stranger circumstances. After a midseason trade from New Orleans to Arizona in 2017, Peterson didn’t have any suitors this offseason. The former All-Pro, with legs as powerful and strong as his legendary handshake, instead had to wait for a last-second call, which ultimately came less than three weeks before Washington’s season-opener.
But all Peterson has done since then is claim the outright starting job in Washington and run away with it. Despite leaving Washington’s Monday loss early with a shoulder injury — the same injury which resulted in his day-to-day listing on the team’s Wednesday injury report — Peterson is expected to play Sunday against the Panthers.
That means Carolina’s defense more than has its hands full.
“AP (is) a beast, man. You can’t go into any game underestimating him, because he can hit any hole and make anything happen,” defensive end Mario Addison said this week. “I’ve played against him a few times, and he’s a good back, so you’ve got to be on your stuff.
“Because once he gets in the open field ... ”
Panthers tighten up
Since allowing Atlanta to run for 170 yards against them in Week 2, the Panthers defensive front has tightened up, holding both Cincinnati and New York to under 100 rushing yards in back-to-back games. Peterson has 242 rushing yards this year in four games (although he only rushed four times for 6 yards before injuring his shoulder Monday).
And Panthers receiver Jarius Wright, who played with Peterson in Minnesota, knows firsthand what Peterson is capable of.
“A guy that can break a run at any time, it was so much fun,” Wright said of playing alongside the former league MVP. “There’s been times when I’d have been on the opposite side of the field and the run was going (the other) way, and somehow he’d come out running (far down the field) the way that I’m going. Yeah, he was fun to watch.”
Carolina offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who coached Peterson to a league-leading 1,485 rushing yards as Minnesota’s OC in 2015, knows him well too.
“We were actually there three years together,” Turner said. “I’m sorry he missed the one year (in 2014), but he’s an explosive player. He’s a great player.”
Now the challenge of stopping him falls to Wright’s new teammates.
How to stop the run
Even counting that 170-yard anomaly against Atlanta, Carolina’s rushing defense is still tied for eighth in the league and allowing just 95 rushing yards per game. Absent that 170-burger, Carolina’s average would be just 70 rushing yards allowed per game, or third-best in the NFL.
First-year defensive coordinator Eric Washington has preached the importance of penetration from his defensive tackles as a key factor in limiting opposing rushing attacks. Do that, Washington has explained, and it forces opposing backs to run laterally around their offensive lines instead of vertically through them.
That gives Carolina’s linebacking corps, already quick, time to get to the perimeter and make those tackles well short of any substantial yardage.
In theory, it makes sense. In practicality, it has been mostly effective.
And while Peterson is of the same physical awe as other runners Carolina has faced this year, young stars such as Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley, he also has the savvy of a longtime veteran.
This Panthers defense knows that, and that underestimating Peterson is a recipe for disaster.
So call Peterson what you will: a beast, a b*tch to bring down, an incredible player, whatever other superlatives you want to pick.
The Panthers are well-aware of all of them. And to beat Washington, they’ll have to stymie one of this generation’s best players.
“He’s physical, he’s strong, he runs hard, he’s quick, he’s got a really good jump cut, he’s powerful — you check all the boxes with him for a guy that you want,” Kuechly said. “He’s a Hall-of-Famer right now, so he’s a good player and we’ve got to know what’s going on.”