Running into fumbles

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We’ll start by saying that plenty of teams would love to have this problem: A tailback so difficult to tackle that he gives defenders too many chances to force a fumble.

That’s where Minnesota is with Adrian Peterson, who has more yards (3,513) and fumbles (15) than any NFL running back since he entered the league in 2007. The most recent example came Monday night against Green Bay, when Packers linebacker Clay Matthews ripped the ball from his hands while two other defenders -- defensive end Cullen Jenkins and linebacker Brandon Chillar -- vainly tried to tackle him.

Not all of Peterson’s fumbles have followed that pattern. On Sept. 20 in Detroit, for example, he simply mishandled an exchange from quarterback Brett Favre. But there have been enough similar instances that Vikings coaches have done the relatively unthinkable.

According to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, the Vikings have been trying to teach Peterson when to keep pushing for extra yardage and when to accept defeat.

“Absolutely, it’s OK to go down,” Bevell said.

He added: “That’s just a chip that’s implanted in his head. That’s just the way he plays. He plays hard. He’s always fighting for extra yards. Do we talk about things when he gets knocked in a pile? We do talk about going down and all those types of things. You keep trying to put in his head. You keep trying to help him understand what type of situation he needs to do those things in.”

That’s easier said than done, of course. Peterson is still at the youthful stage of his career where he invites contact rather than avoids it. He’s looking to push every pile, no matter how big it gets. Monday night, the 305-pound Jenkins stopped Peterson’s forward progress but couldn’t bring him to the turf. Most running backs would have been on the ground, but Peterson ultimately gave Matthews enough time to rip the ball out of his arm.

Peterson conceded that it was “a situation where I’ve got to be smarter.” He added: “It was a good play by [Matthews]. Too bad it wasn’t enough. We bounced back and won the game.”

Intuitively, I think Peterson understands that no one would have thought twice if he simply stopped fighting once Jenkins and Chillar wrapped him up. But when it comes down to it, will Peterson’s really give up on a run during a game? I asked him Thursday how he would reconcile those competing mentalities.

“I guess that’s what you get form me and how I run the ball,” Peterson said. “I’m not going out there being careless with the ball. Basically, every time I touch the ball, I’m trying to get in the end zone. … The majority of my fumbles, it’s plays like that -- guys coming in, ripping the ball out of my arm, or I’m reaching the ball out for extra yards. It’s just how I play the game. It’s not like I’m being careless. The first thing you want to do as a running back is protect the ball. I’m doing that at all times. Anytime it comes out, you’ve got to give those guys credit for just making a good play.”

Later, Peterson said: “The next time four guys got me wrapped up, I’ll just hold onto the ball and go down.” But I think his earlier answer represents his true mentality. The moment he stops fighting for extra yardage on every play will be the moment he stops being the Adrian Peterson we have watched for the past two and a quarter seasons.