Defiant Hardy eager to challenge Peterson

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There's only one player that Greg Hardy would put at running back on Madden NFL outside of Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.

If you know the Carolina Panthers defensive end, you won't be surprised.

"I'm my first pick in Madden," Hardy said as he prepares for Peterson and the Vikings on Sunday in Minneapolis. "I'm my second pick in Madden. I'm going to have 11 me's on both sides of the ball."

Naturally. So the obvious next question: How would this 6-4, 290-pound man-child perform at running back?

"Talk to Coach," Hardy said with a smile. "I'll show you."

Peterson already has shown he's the best back in the league today, on his way to being one of the best in NFL history. He's second in the league in rushing with 421 yards, averaging 4.6 yards a carry for a 1-3 team that is shaky on the offensive line and at quarterback.

He's 89 yards ahead of last year's pace, when he rushed for a league-best 2,097 yards less than a year after coming back from a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee.

Peterson is confident, too. Hardy kind of confident.

Remember during the preseason when Hardy said his 2013 goal was 50 sacks, more than twice the season record? Peterson already has targeted Week 16 of the 2017 season to pass Emmitt Smith as the NFL's all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards.

That gives the 28-year-old Peterson 76 regular-season games to accumulate 9,085 yards -- an average of 119.5 yards a game during that span.

Next up is a Carolina defense ranked third overall and seventh against the run, holding opponents to 92.3 yards rushing per game. Hardy has the same plan for Peterson that he has against every back.

"I've got to hit him in the face and hope he doesn't break my ankles off," he said. "I'm going to keep coming and keep coming and keep coming and it's going to be the same thing every week, no matter who I play."

But Hardy isn't foolish enough to suggest Peterson is like every back.

"He's a great back," he said. "He's awesome. I play with him on Madden. I don't know what else you want me to say. I'm a defensive end. He's a running back. He's going to run. I'm going to try to break his neck."

That might be the only way to completely stop Peterson. He's rushed for 100 or more yards twice this season, something he did in 10 of 16 regular-season games a year ago.

Carolina's game plan, as is the case with most teams, begins with stopping the player known by many as A.P.

"It's going to take all 11 players on defense to get him," end Charles Johnson said. "Man, he's big. And he can run. He's got the whole package.

"You don't see that many backs that can do what he can do. He's one of a kind."

But the Panthers pride themselves on stopping the run. They held Seattle's Marshawn Lynch to 43 yards on 17 carries in the opener. They held the entire New York Giants backfield to 60 yards. The Cardinals had only 90.

Buffalo's C.J. Spiller had 103 yards, but 46 came on one run on a day when the secondary lost three starters to injuries.

So when you tell Hardy he has to stop one of the best backs of this generation in Peterson, he responds with defiance.

"Why can't I be the best defensive end of this generation?" he said. "Why can't we be the best defense of this generation? Why can't the Panthers be the best team of this generation?"

Stay tuned. This will be a classic matchup of strength vs. strength between a pair of 1-3 teams fighting to remain viable.

And for the record, Hardy plays Peterson from time to time on Madden NFL.

"Yeah," he said. "He's a beast."