NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans running back
Johnson won’t be the only Tennessee player to do so, as a big part of the defensive game plan will hinge on limiting Peterson and forcing Minnesota’s second-year QB Christian Ponder to throw the ball.
“I feel like he’s a great running back,” Johnson said. “I feel like me and him are right on the same level as the best running backs in the league or whatever. I look up to his name. I feel like he’s an exciting player to watch, so I know I’m going to be paying a lot of attention for him.”
Johnson and Peterson are the NFL’s top two rushers since 2008 when Johnson entered the league and Peterson completed his second season.
Johnson has rushed for 5,831 yards on 1,245 attempts (4.7 yards per carry), and Peterson has rushed for 5,743 yards on 1,247 attempts (4.6 yards per carry), despite missing most of 2011 with a knee injury.
Although the stats nearly mirror each other, the styles don’t. Johnson is known for thriving in space and accelerating quickly, while Peterson has a reputation for breaking tackles on his way to bigger gains.
“I feel like we’re two different backs,” Johnson said. “I feel like he’s kind of the power back, but he still has speed and things like that. I feel like the only thing, kind of, that we really can compare, we both can go inside and outside tackles and we both can break the long run.”
Johnson has rushed for 186 yards on 58 carries this season (3.2 yards per carry), but enters Sunday’s game on the heels of his strongest performance this season (141 yards on 25 carries at Houston).
Titans coach Mike Munchak said he’s seeing progress in the rush attack, but said one game — good or bad — isn’t enough of a sample size.
“Obviously, it was better, much better than it had been,” Munchak said. “I even thought the week before, Detroit, actually there were four or five nice runs in that game, that you saw things coming together.”
The Titans want to continue to improve their running rhythm and possess the football longer. Tennessee is averaging a league low 24 minutes, 20 seconds of possession time per game.
“We have to keep the ball; we know that,” Munchak said. “We haven’t really done that very well this year. So that will be real important. I’m hoping it’s just enough of a confidence boost that we hand it off that many times again, that he gets to 20, 25 carries. If he can do that, I think he’ll have a good day.”
Peterson has 332 yards on 79 attempts (4.2 average) this season, and multiple Titans said they’ve been impressed with the way he’s run since his return.
“They’re going to be a team that’s gonna run it straight down field, linebacker
Tennessee held Houston to 95 yards rushing on 31 attempts (3.1 per carry) last week, and is looking to build on that, but the Vikings’ power run game is a stark contrast to the Texans’ system that greatly benefits from cutback runs.
“Their whole blocking scheme is a lot different,” defensive end
“With Adrian Peterson, you’ve got to gang tackle him,” Morgan continued. “He’s a really hard runner, so you’ve got to have a lot of hats to the ball and make sure you get him on the ground.”
“You’ve almost got to get him to slow down in practice,” Hutchinson said, “because he runs and hits the hole so hard in practice that sometimes the defensive guys are complaining that he runs into them so hard, like, ‘Hey, it’s supposed to be non-tackling drills, but you’re running us over. We’ve got to start bringing you down.’ It’s just the way he works, and he’s full-speed in everything he does.”
Hutchinson said the Titans are encouraged by the way they ran the ball last week but want to keep improving and developing their rhythm.
Although Johnson and Peterson won’t go head-to-head, Johnson said there will be a pride factor — and likely a connection to winning — in having the best day.
“Of course I want to out-perform him or something like that,” Johnson said, “but it’s a situation any time we go against another team, I want to be the best back and the best player out there on the field, but I know in order for us to actually shut him down and him not have a good day, it’s going to take our offense to sustain some long drives and hopefully get them one-dimensional where they have to pass a lot.”