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Rams have hands full with Adrian Peterson

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis winces at its mention. The it in this case being the 82-yard lightning bolt of a touchdown run Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson delivered in his team's win against the Rams in a 2012 meeting.

That was the last time the Rams and Vikings met, a 36-22 Minnesota win in which Peterson was held to 8 yards on his first eight carries before ripping off the long touchdown run that essentially buried the Rams.

"I remember that 82-yard run that Adrian had," Laurinaitis said. "I thought we came out, played solid the first quarter and then bam, he hits that. You can shut him down, shut him down, shut him down but really any play he can take it to the house."

The play was one of the most memorable of that season for all the wrong reasons. While nobody will really say it now, it was also the play that shined a negative light on then linebackers coach/de facto defensive coordinator Blake Williams.

On first-and-10 from Minnesota's 18, Williams called for an odd zone blitz in which defensive tackle Kendall Langford faked toward the line of scrimmage then dropped back into coverage. Peterson burst through the spot Langford vacated, juked right, jumped back left, turned the speed to a higher gear, made safety Craig Dahl miss and raced the rest of the way for the touchdown.

Peterson's big play not only gave Minnesota a 14-7 lead it would not relinquish but quieted a Rams defense that had spent most of the first quarter barking at him. He finished with 212 yards on 24 carries, including a 52-yard run later in the game.

"What I do remember about that game is that it’s first time in eight years, I’ve ever talked off to players," Peterson said. "Those guys had me so hot; like, I haven't ever been that mad playing football. Those guys were just running to the ball -- I love it, too -- but (they) were just yapping at the mouth. I'm talking about from the defensive front to the second level to the secondary. Those guys were just yapping and they were doing pretty good initially, kind of getting a couple tackles for loss, a couple of three-and-outs.

"Then when I gummed at them one time, it got real quiet."

It's become pretty common to see plenty of chirping from the Rams under coach Jeff Fisher. That part of it probably won't change Sunday when the teams renew acquaintances. But there are plenty of things that have since that meeting.

While much of the personnel on the Rams defense is similar, most of it is far more experienced than it was at the time. Minnesota has a similar look on its offensive line but much more in the way of weapons to complement Peterson.

Most important, the Rams have a different, more experienced Williams guiding the defense. Gregg Williams, Blake's father and the man who was supposed to be the defensive coordinator for that 2012 game is finally settled in that role.

“We’ve got a lot of the same guys here, but we’ve got a different approach and a different game plan to this," Fisher said. "Realistically speaking you can’t shut him down. It’s hard to find a game where he's (struggled) unless the team got real behind fast where you’ve taken him out and neutralized him. He’s a very talented player.”

Peterson will provide the toughest of tests for a defense which finished ninth in the league against the run 2013 but had games where it was nothing but a speed bump for the likes of Dallas' DeMarco Murray and Tennessee's Chris Johnson.

While the Rams should be better equipped to slow Peterson this time around, they also should be prepared for some new wrinkles. Minnesota offensive coordinator Norv Turner has brought his own ideas to the offense and has Peterson prepared to be more involved than ever after sitting out the preseason.

A short survey of Rams defenders on the best way to slow Peterson reveals that the first piece of the puzzle is understanding that he can't be completely stopped. Second, each defender talks about swarming to the ball to prevent him from getting to the second level so that his long runs are limited to 12 to 15 yards rather than 70 to 80.

"He’s going to figure out who wants to tackle," end Chris Long said. "I think when he gets in the second level and you let him out in the back end of your defense he’s the best. That’s what separates him is his ability to break a run. He’s not just going to chip away at you. He’s going to chip away at you and then you could have them pinned down on the 7-yard line and he’s going to go for 93 yards and a score so that’s what I think makes him one of the best."