BENGALS WLB VONTAZE BURFICT VS. VIKINGS RB ADRIAN PETERSON
A.P. A.D. Whatever you want to call him, Peterson is the best running back of the 21st century and the Bengals know that he's coming for them like one of his other nicknames. All Day Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m., tickets still available) when the Vikings-Bengals put on one of those only-in-the-NFL matchups pitting two generations of talent still young enough to be at the top of their games.
There is the 28-year-old, 6-1, 217-pound Peterson gunning for his third NFL rushing title on his inexorable march to Canton to stand next to Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton and all the great running backs. He goes All Day all the time.
There is the 23-year-old, 6-1, 250-pound Burfict looking to secure his first NFL tackling title in a sophomore season he has emerged as one of the next big things in pro linebacking. Big Day. He always seems to have one with tackles in the teens.
All Day vs. Big Day. If the Bengals win they can clinch the AFC North with a Ravens loss.
"You know what kind of back he is; that's what it's going to take: all 11 of us," Burfict says. "He's powerful, he can break tackles. We just have to wrap up and tackle."
That hasn't exactly been the Bengals strong suit the past two weeks. There are a ton of numbers out there at anynflstatyouwant.com that can tell you that, but Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham has the big one.
"Thirty missed tackles in the last two games," Lapham says. "If they do that Sunday, Peterson will run for 200."
Lapham should know. He first saw him when he was announcing college football games and Peterson showed up at Oklahoma.
"At 18," Lapham says, "he was a man among boys."
Peterson's work in the NFL is well documented, highlighted by last season's enormous 2,000-yard effort that was more like 3,000 given that it came off an ACL injury. That's why no one around the Bengals thinks Peterson won't play Sunday even though he missed last week with a foot issue. Especially since a very proud man with more than 1,200 yards already again is just 122 yards from catching Shady McCoy for the rushing lead.
"When he achieved 2,000 a year ago, to everyone else that was a big deal. But to Adrian, he believes he's capable of doing that each year," says Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier. "That rushing title is a big deal and I'm hoping he'll be able to play this week."
Frazier played with Payton in Chicago in the '80s and has seen Peterson's entire career in Minnesota, first as the Vikings defensive coordinator and then head coach for the last three and a half seasons. He laughs when asked who's better ("How could you ask me that question?"), but he sees the common thread.
"They're both so competitive. Walter never wanted to lose at anything. He always wanted to be the best," Frazier says. "Be first in anything he did and Adrian is the same way. He doesn't believe there is anybody better. He works his tail off. Both those guys were hard workers that were gifted with a lot of talent. There are so many similarities. Both great in their own eras."
Lapham announced a handful of Peterson's college games, but it is that first one against Iowa State that stands out.
"He dove into the end zone for a touchdown and he got his lower body hit and he contorted and landed wrong," Lapham says. "He does a pushup off the field, runs to the sideline, and I thought it wasn't as bad as it looked. But after the game you find out he had broken his collarbone. His pain tolerance, his strength is freakish."
Lapham has seen all the great backs in person since he played in the Ken Anderson-O.J. Simpson Monday Night classic at Riverfront and he puts Barry Sanders at the top of a very short list that Peterson has joined.
"He's one of the best; he's in that category," Lapham says. "Each guy has different strengths. What (Peterson) has is that second, third, fourth, fifth effort. He's the ultimate effort player."
Perfect. No one plays with more effort and heart than Burfict.
He's the Jim Brown of the modern day backer. He's on the field every snap. Banged up. Limping. You're not sure if he's coming out of the game. Slumps into the huddle. Then it's like a clap of thunder when he slaps his hands after he calls the play and he's off running to make another tackle.
(He flashed some All Day three weeks ago when he flew to San Diego in a boot for a sprained ankle on a Friday and had 13 tackles on a Sunday.)
Already an instinctive player when he came into the league, Burfict is even better with 30 games in defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's scheme.
"He's grown. He understands the defense much better, so he's able to tell guys kind of what to do a little bit more," Zimmer says.
Burfict doesn't miss tackles, so when he's asked about the last two games, that's a bit personal.
"I don't know how many I missed," Burfict says. "That's something you have to have on your own. You can't teach somebody to tackle. In the spirit of the moment they have to be able to tackle. Zim called it out. We'll be OK. We've got enough players on defense that they're going to step up and play."
You can be sure Zimmer has called out the tackling. He doesn't have to be told that Peterson has Pro Football Focus's top "elusive" rating for doing the most in the NFL beyond his blocking.
"We'll be good again," Zimmer assures about a defense that is known for its sure tackling but has had an uncharacteristic bad last two games.
He doesn't want to hear about how he's missing two of his best tacklers at cornerback in Leon Hall and Terence Newman. Or that his defense has been worn down with injury.
"These guys are all good tacklers. Sometimes it's the guys you're going against. Antonio Brown is pretty good," Zimmer says of the Steelers receiver. "Quick guys."
He also doesn't want to hear that tackling has deteriorated throughout the season because of the limit on padded practices and how they usually only have one a week, if any, at this point in the year.
"I don't believe that. Even when you're padded you don't really tackle during team periods," Zimmer says. "We've had 14 games and preseason and some scrimmages. They've had plenty of work in live situations."
Instead, Zimmer is concentrating more on the team periods this week since he believes tackling is a team concept and is as much about having the right angle as it is about will.
"Tackling is a lot about, 'I got this shoulder, he's got that shoulder.' And the one-on-ones is knowing where your help is and being in the right position and being close," Zimmer says. "It's a lot easier to miss a tackle from here to the door than if I'm from me to you. I can make that tackle in the phone booth.
"You miss open field tackles because you're not close enough or tight enough, or not using your help the right way. I've seen on tape a lot of missed tackles throughout the league. I don't know why, but I'm seeing more and more now and I don't know if it's because guys are injured. I don't know what the reason is, but it shows up on tape a lot more than I've been seeing."
Zimmer doesn't want to see it Sunday. If Peterson catches McCoy with about a buck 50, the Bengals won't win. They'll probably take what he did against them in '09 in Minnesota when Zimmer and Co., held Peterson to 97 yards on 26 carries. That would probably get a win, although it didn't that day because the Bengals couldn't score and Brett Favre was playing quarterback.
"We're good enough to make tackles. We're talented. This week we'll tackle," says nickel back Chris Crocker. "That's been one of the things that's kind of hurt us, not getting guys around the football. When you have a great back like Adrian Peterson coming in here, it's not about one person tackling. It's about a lot of guys getting around him because he's going to make guys miss and you have to have relentless pursuit to the ball."
Crocker played in that '09 game, but not much because he was nursing a raft of injuries. There are no secrets on film in this one.
"It's going to be a challenge. He's a great back, he really is, and he makes a lot of people miss," Crocker says. "It's about 11 guys around him not allowing him to get a lot of yards after the first contact."
An NFL Films matchup. Hall of Fame will vs. a WILL backer and his team's will to win out.
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