Patriots solid run defense focused on Jackson
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP)
Vince Wilfork likes to tangle in the trenches with big running backs.
He'll face one of the biggest on Sunday.
The next load charging at the 330-pound defensive tackle of the New England Patriots will be 240-pound Steven Jackson of the St. Louis
Rams, a durable player who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each
of the last seven seasons.
The Rams ''can line up and run the ball three straight times, four
straight times, if they're successful doing it,'' Wilfork said Thursday
before the Patriots' red-eye flight to London for the game. ''They have
no problem putting the ball in their running backs' hands to get tough
yards, or even a long distance.''
Jackson is not having one of his better years. He's just 20th in the
NFL with 380 yards rushing, a pace that would give him 869 yards for
the season. And he didn't score his first touchdown until last Sunday's
30-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
''He's a big guy,'' New England defensive end Rob Ninkovich said.
''He's strong. When you have some size and speed it definitely makes it
a lot harder to tackle somebody. So you've just got to make sure that
you really get your hat on him.''
The Patriots' pass defense has gotten most of the attention, a lot of
it negative. It has been vulnerable to big plays and has allowed the
fourth most yards passing in the league. Opponents' eagerness to
exploit that could be one reason they haven't rolled up big rushing
numbers. Only seven teams have given up more yards on the ground than
Or maybe the Patriots have very talented run stuffers.
''We really pride ourselves on stopping the run first,'' Ninkovich
said. ''As long as you do that and kind of make the game more
one-dimensional it's just going to help your defense in the long run.''
So far the Patriots have faced six of the NFL's top 16 runners with
only one rushing for more than 54 yards. That was Ray Rice, who gained
101 in the Baltimore Ravens' 31-30 win.
Last Sunday, the Patriots held Shonn Greene of the New York Jets to 54
yards on 16 carries one week after he rushed for a career-high 161. In
their previous game, they limited Seattle's Marshawn Lynch to 41 yards
on 15 carries, one week before he gained 103. And in the game before
that, the Patriots kept Denver's Willis McGahee to 51 yards on 14
carries one week after he ran for 112.
There are more impressive numbers.
Opponents have averaged 3.3 yards per carry, second-fewest in the NFL.
They've scored three touchdowns on the ground and have only 10 runs of
more than 10 yards. The Patriots are averaging 4.2 yards with 10
touchdowns and 28 carries of more than 10 yards.
Last year, the Patriots gave up 4.6 yards per rush, tied for
Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo are two reasons for the new
stinginess. What are some others?
''I'm a young buck. I'm not here to talk about that,'' rookie
first-round linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. ''I'm doing my role and
my role is to hit the dude with the ball. So that's what I'm doing. So
as long as I do that and Vince and Mayo, they're not yelling at me, I
feel like I'm doing my job.''
The Patriots also must contend with Daryl Richardson, whose 282 yards
rank third among NFC rookies.
But the physical Jackson is the most dangerous.
''He dishes it out. I think he probably gives as much as he takes,''
New England coach Bill Belichick said. ''It's not like that with all
backs, but he has the quickness to be elusive on the second level,
avoid guys and he's also got the power to put his shoulder down and run
through guys. He's a hard guy to tackle.
''His production in the passing game is very good too. Not just
screens, but actual route running, going out there, getting open,
beating linebackers and he's a great target for the quarterback to
throw to. He's not a little 5-8 guy you're trying to find out there.
He's a big, tall, strong guy that has a lot of range and a big catch
radius and good hands.''
Jackson has only 10 receptions this year but had at least 38 in each of
the past seven. His 90 catches in 2006 were tied for seventh in the
league and were the most by a running back that year.
Leading up to the 2004 draft, Belichick recalled he spent nearly a full
day with the running back from Oregon State.
''He's a very impressive individual. Obviously, a big, strong kid that
runs well, that catches the ball very well, very good in the passing
game,'' Belichick said. ''He definitely was a guy that we were very
much interested in.''
But he was gone by the time the Patriots, who won the previous Super
Bowl, made the last pick of the first round.
''He was an impressive guy coming out,'' Belichick said, ''and he's
had, obviously, an outstanding career.''
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