In an era when passing has become the rage (outside of Denver), the Vikings and Raiders pride themselves as much on running the ball as they do passing, making the battle between Michael Bush and Adrian Peterson this week's key matchup, despite playing on both sides of the ball.
This was supposed to be the matchup between Peterson and Darren McFadden – the first running back post-Peterson to get drafted with the moniker of "the next Adrian Peterson." However, a foot injury sidelined McFadden three weeks ago, but the Raiders haven't missed a beat.
Through six games, McFadden was atop the NFL in rushing with 610 yards, but he was injured early in Week 7 against Kansas City and was replaced by Bush. While McFadden is a breakaway threat. Bush is a between-the-tackles banger who earns his yards the hard way – running into the teeth of the defense. He doesn't have a lot of moves, but is a punishing runner who grinds out every inch of real estate he can pick up.
Since replacing McFadden, the Raiders rush offense hasn't taken a backward step. Oakland ranks fourth in the league in rushing (the Vikings are fifth) and they haven't slipped at all with the front-line running back on the shelf. In his three games as the featured back, Bush has rushed 17 times for 99 yards against Kansas City, 19 times for 96 yards against Denver and, in Oakland's most recent win against the Chargers, Bush got a whopping 30 carries for 157 yards and a touchdown.
Like the Vikings, the Raiders changed quarterbacks three games ago with the trade for veteran Carson Palmer. Like Christian Ponder in reverse, he continues to learn the offense as the starter and is improving. But the focus of the Raiders offense remains the running game, whether it is with McFadden or Bush.
While the Raiders remain one of the game's best rushing offenses, they are one of the worst rush defenses. As potent as their rush offense has been – gaining five yards a carry – their defense has allowed 5.2 yards a carry – ranking 25th in the league, allowing almost 1,200 yards through nine games with nine rushing touchdowns. It sounds like a perfect recipe for Peterson, who sits 191 yards short of the Vikings' all-time career rushing record.
Peterson has rushed for 845 yards, has six games with 80 or more rushing yards, three games with 120 or more yards and has scored at least one touchdown in seven of nine games for a league-leading 10 rushing touchdowns. When the Vikings are on a roll, it is largely because of Peterson and he has been nothing short of deadly at the Metrodome.
In four home games this season, he has rushed 95 times for 495 yards and seven touchdowns – a gaudy average of 24 carries for 124 yards and two touchdowns. By comparison, in five road games, he has rushed 85 times for 351 yards and three TDs. He has been much more productive at home than on the road and the Raiders look like a prime opponent to take advantage of.
Since Peterson and Bush won't be on the field at the same time, their battle won't take place mano-a-mano, but they will be the focal point of both of their offenses. It wouldn't be surprising to see both of them carry the ball 25 times or more. If that's the case, the game may be the first game of Sunday's slate to finish, because the clock may only stop regularly on changes of possession.
While the potential Peterson-McFadden matchup would have been sexier in the eyes of the national media, since both have similar game-breaking styles and burst, the matchup between Peterson and Bush may actually be more intriguing for fans of the Vikings and Raiders. Both of them earn their money the old-fashioned way, by running over defenders rather than maneuvering around them.
In battle of the bruising backs, the one that has the more impressive game is most likely to be on the team that wins, making this an old-school matchup to watch.
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.
Key matchup: Battle of the bruising backs
Viking Update Top Stories
VIDEO: Zimmer on final preps for EaglesMinnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer discusses some key players for Philadelphia, his defense and if Jake Long could play.
Viking Update12:02 PM
Vikings have 3 receivers on injury reportThe Minnesota Vikings could be getting Stefon Diggs back in the lineup, but he is among three receivers on their injury report.
Viking Update11:37 AM
Hard-core stats: Vikings at EaglesThe Minnesota Vikings will look to exploit some of the weaknesses the Eagles have shown lately, including one strength for the Vikings and one weakness. We go deep into where the…
Viking Update5:04 AM
Born to run … with backups?Perhaps no other division came into 2016 more dependent on strong running games to succeed as much as the NFC North. But, in just the seventh week of the season, all four teams…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 10:23 PM