As good as Peterson can be though, he’s even better when his offensive line is blocking. During long stretches of Thursday night’s game, that wasn’t the case, but really that just highlighted how good he was.
And how much more impressive he is when the blocking is there.
Today, we’ll break down two of Peterson’s big runs from Thursday night.
18-yard Touchdown Run, 5:17 1st Quarter
This run was largely one which happened because of Peterson’s speed and elusiveness. Once he was at the second level, tacklers just couldn’t get a bead on him.
That said, for several runs prior to this Peterson had been struggling because the offensive line just couldn’t make the blocks he needed.
On this play, he got the sort of support he got more frequently during his 2012 NFL campaign.
Peterson lined up well in the backfield with fullback Jerome Felton set forward and to his right and quarterback Christian Ponder under center.
Tight end John Carlson and receiver Greg Jennings are also to Peterson’s right—the formation is heavily weighted right.
There are a few things also worthy of note but not brought up on the broadcast. The left side of the line—left tackle Matt Kalil and backup center/guard Joe Berger do an excellent job sealing off the rush on that side and clearing the run lane.
Wide receiver Jerome Simpson (near the bottom of the screen) also gets out and sets up a nice block.
Sullivan passes off the defender he initially engages in to right guard Brandon Fusco, then steps out to pick up an incoming linebacker, Perry Riley.
Once he gets to the second level, Peterson cuts the run outside to his left and turns on his speed. A few bad angles by tacklers later and he’s chalking up his eighth touchdown.
16-yard Run, :41 1st Quarter
Another solid example of good blocking came at the close of the 1st quarter.
The Vikings were on their own 43-yard line on second down with five yards to go.
Peterson had just caught a pass for five yards and the Vikings were driving down the field attempting to respond to a Washington touchdown.
The Vikings went four wide, spreading the defense and trying to keep them from stacking eight or nine men in the box in case Paterson ran. Peterson is the lone back, with no blockers or anyone else in the backfield save Ponder, who is in the shotgun.
Spreading the defense out gives the offensive line a better advantage in numbers—with receivers on either side of the line going out, there will only be the front four of Washington’s 4-3 clogging up running lanes.
The linebackers will probably initially hold off to drop into coverage, only stepping up when Peterson is well on his way to the hole.
As you can see after the snap, the offensive line does a great job of holding off the pass rush, save for Sullivan who has a little bit of an issue with his buddy from the touchdown run, Perry Riley.
Save for that, though, you can see that the line is firing out and has the defensive line on it’s heels. And since the defense was spread out, there is a spare offensive lineman—guard Brandon Fusco.
As you can see on the screen-capture, Fusco immediately gets to the second level and is in perfect position to throw a block at either of the linebackers there—both of whom are still hesitating to make sure the hand-off really happens and isn’t a play-action.
You can also see receiver Greg Jennings just off the left tackle, moving out as if going on a route. That holds a linebacker in place but also will allow Jennings to block for Peterson momentarily.
Sullivan shoves Riley out of the play as Peterson heads to the “6” hole, just off the right tackle, where receiver Joe Webb is blocking as well.
Note that Fusco and Jennings are now about to engage the linebackers in preparation for when Peterson reaches the second level.
As it stands, there is nobody in position to stop him the running back from doing so either.
Once Peterson gets through the hole, the blocking up ahead by Fusco and Jennings—as well as the receivers on the far edges of the play—allow him to have multiple choices and angles to take the ball.
This is where Peterson is most dangerous, at the second level with open space. He’s a pain to bring down at or behind the line but when he has space and speed he’s an absolute nightmare.
With a safety coming up to fill the gap to his right, Peterson wisely follows his blockers, which gives them about six more yards before he is brought down.
There’s a lot that Peterson can do on his own, but the difference between when he has to, versus when he has solid blocking is phenomenal.
When the Vikings offensive line can fire out and hit their blocks, Peterson goes from “dangerous” to “potentially lethal to the opposition.”
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.