Running Dolphins meet run-stopping Vikings

The Vikings and Dolphins present a game of strength on strength, and key players on both sides of the equation know it. The Dolphins' offensive identity is in the running game and the Vikings' defensive calling card is stopping the run. Players from both teams are looking forward to the challenge.

Ricky Williams is looking forward to the matchup. Pat Williams is looking forward to stopping Ricky Williams.

At its core, the Vikings-Dolphins game on Sunday should be strength vs. strength – a strong running team vs. a strong run-defending team.

"It's going to be a great matchup. We've watched a little film and we see that they do a really good job of getting after the ball carriers and they do it with only seven guys," Ricky Williams said of the Vikings run defense. "So we all know we have our work cut out for us this week."

The Vikings finished with the league's top-ranked run defense from 2006-2008, the first team in NFL history to do that three years in a row. Last year, they finished second against the run.

The heart and soul of the run-cloggers is nose tackle Pat Williams, the anchor in the middle of the line who is looking forward to facing a run-oriented offense Sunday in front of the home Metrodome crowd.

"Basically, it's going to be one of them old-fashioned smash-mouth games Sunday because they don't do nothing pretty, but they'll come dinking and dunking the ball and trying to run the ball on us," Pat Williams said. "We have to go out there and stuff the little short passes and stop their run because they run their Wildcat offense."

The Dolphins are about as close it comes in the NFL to having a balanced attack. In Week 1, NFL teams averaged 26.3 rushes and 34.3 passes. Miami ran the ball 36 times and passed it 34 times.

The Dolphins are just about the antithesis of the Vikings' opening-week opponent, the New Orleans Saints, who ran the ball 25 times and passed it 36 times.

"(The Dolphins) throw when they have to and run because that's what they do best," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "It's a little bit opposite of what we're used to seeing, especially after last week against Drew (Brees). He's going to get the ball out of his hands quick with their passing game. Different challenge for us and different week, and we have to go out there and play well and we get to do it at home."

The Dolphins also approach their running game differently than most teams. They are the definition of having a shared workload among their running backs. In Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills, Ronnie Brown carried the ball 13 times and Ricky Williams had 18 rushes.

"We're both first-round picks, and we've both had some success in this league and we do a good job up front," Williams said. "I think we really believe in our running game, so as a running back group in our room we like to be the strength of the team so we want the ball in our hands."

The split carries allows the Dolphins to keep their running backs fresher than teams that want to pile 25-plus carries on one running back. Meanwhile, the Vikings' starting defenders don't get nearly the in-game breaks than the Dolphins' running backs get, but Greenway isn't complaining.

"I don't think it makes it more difficult. They're very similar in their running style. Ronnie Brown can do different things," Greenway said. "Then you have the Wildcat thrown in there so you have to defend that. They just give you a few different things to go after, and take your time because you have to look at them to defend them. For the most part, it's defending that run game. It's not real complicated, but it's still tough."

Pat Williams' game plan rarely changes from opponent to opponent, but he at least he knows the names he's targeting this week.

"We have to smash Ricky and Ronnie Brown. That's our game plan, go out there and smash it," he said.

Despite New Orleans' lack of commitment to the running game early, the Saints did eventually start to balance out their offense, especially in the fourth quarter.

Vikings defenders insist they weren't worn down when the Saints had a 14-9 lead and took possession of the ball with 5:32 remaining in that game. At that point, the Saints turned to their running game and it was effective.

They went on an 11-play drive, tied for their longest of the game. Pierre Thomas ran the ball on five of the first eight plays before New Orleans could kneel on the ball for the win.

Ricky Williams said the idea behind the Dolphins' running is to wear down the defense.

"I think that's what we're aiming for. Coach uses the analogy of a heavyweight fight, and you just keep throwing body blows and body blows," Williams said. "If the defense plays well and we're running the ball well, that's what we want to do _ wear the defense down and get them to the point where they don't want to tackle us anymore."

Both Ricky Williams and Miami coach Tony Sparano realize that may be a bigger task against the Vikings.

"That's one of the best rushing defenses in the league and they have been for the past four years," Sparano said.

"I rank 'em in the top three," Ricky Williams said. "I think Baltimore does a really good job against the run and I think New England does a good job. I have to put the Vikings up there with those two teams."

After the Saints' final-drive effectiveness in the opener, Pat Williams sees room for improvement.

"I think we have something to prove Sunday," he said.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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