Not since Adrian Peterson burst in the scene in 2007 has a rookie running back lit up the NFL as quickly as Detroit's Jahvid Best. Through two games, not only is he the Lions' exclusive running threat – he has 31 carries for 98 yards and nobody else has more than five carries – but he is also the leading receiver, catching 14 passes for 170 yards. He leads the NFL with five touchdowns and has got the attention of the league with his fast start.
An explosive back in college whose draft stock allowed him to slip to the back end of the first round, the Lions thought enough of Best that they made a trade with the Vikings to move up four spots in the draft to assure they locked him down. They were intrigued by his home-run, big-play ability and he has more than lived up to early expectations.
Best has already set a standard of explosiveness that has Detroit fans harkening back to the days of Barry Sanders and Billy Sims. He became the first rookie running back in NFL history to rush for at least 75 yards, amass 150 yards receiving and score three touchdowns in a game when he ripped up the Eagles last week.
As the Vikings game plan for the Lions offense, Best is Priority No. 1 for all three levels of the Vikings defense.
"If he gets in the secondary, I'm sure I'm going to have to put a hat on him," Winfield said. "He's putting up some really good numbers. He has five touchdowns in two games and they're featuring him. They're giving him the ball in open spaces and he has the speed to take the ball the distance any time he touches it. We'll throw in a few wrinkles to try to take him out of the game."
The Vikings have prepared game plans around versatile running backs like Brian Westbrook and Reggie Bush. Both of them were multi-faceted threats that their coaches used in many different ways – trying to find ways to create openings for them in space and letting them do what they do best. The Vikings see the Lions attempting to do much the same with Best and it will be on the linebackers to make sure he doesn't get a free run with the ball in his hands. Quite literally, if you give him a couple of steps, he can take it the distance any time he touches the ball.
"We've seen this type of back before – the kind of guy who can break runs to the outside at any time," Chad Greenway said. "It makes it tough to defense on certain plays. We're approaching him the way you approach somebody like Reggie Bush. He's more comfortable running outside, so we have to be aware of that. But we're not going to change what we do on defense simply because of him. It will put some pressure on us to keep him contained and that will be on all of us in the linebacker corps to keep him bottled up and not let him get into space where he can do damage."
E.J. Henderson said he will be assigned to Best on just about anything between the tackles and, given the Lions' penchant for using Best in multiple forms, it won't be a surprise if he touches the ball 25-30 times Sunday. Henderson said Best will be a constant source of attention for the Vikings defense. It will be a long day keeping him in check and the linebackers are prepared to pack a lunch to get the job done.
"The Lions have made it clear that they want him to be the centerpiece of their offense because of his explosiveness," Henderson said. "They want to get him the ball in space and he can make big plays. We've got our work cut out for us. Any time you've got a running back in the box, it's basically up to the ‘backers to get him down. We're going to focus on our responsibilities and that will be to keep him contained."
While the Vikings won't put a "spy" on Best – a player who will chase him wherever he goes, even if he doesn't have the ball at the snap – they will be aware of where he is on every snap and will have to account for him to prevent another big day from the Detroit rookie.
"There are certain times where Chad or I are going to be assigned to take him on, but it's going to come down to the entire defense knowing what they're trying to do and (Best's) alignments," Leber said. "Right now, it seems like they do want to get him outside. Based on what we've seen so far, their plan is to get him outside. We're a pursuit defense and we're pretty good at it, so it will be a strength-on-strength sort of matchup."
With the Vikings' plan to flood the outside zones, the intent is to force Best to earn his yards between the tackles. That should play into the Vikings' strengths as a run defense. The plan is to take away the outside run lines, pinch Best inside and let the Williams Wall do what it's known for – stuffing opposing running backs. If the Vikings are to get their first win, stopping the Lions' new weapon will be on the top of the list of defensive objectives. While Best can scare defensive coordinators with his talents, the Vikings aren't going to back down from their own defensive bread and butter – taking away even the best of opposing running backs.
"That's what we do – we stop the run," Kevin Williams said. "We've gone against some of the best running backs in the league the last couple of years and we've been able to keep them down. That's going to be our plan Sunday. We're going to stop the run and try to make them one-dimensional on offense. Our plan is to take him away. If we do that, we're going to set up our defense to do what we do best – get after the quarterback and create turnovers."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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