There are some matchups that are so obvious that you can't get away from them. Typically, these weekly matchups are individual battles that can impact the overall outcome of the game. However, this week's matchup to watch will feature a couple dozen players, as the Buffalo Bills rushing attack against the Vikings' defensive front seven is this key matchup.
The preseason Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was due almost exclusively to the Vikings' inability to stop the run. San Francisco rolled up 260 rushing yards – the kind of totals typically reserved for college teams against an overmatched opponent. The fact that San Francisco didn't use Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore, the lofty rushing total is even more troubling from Minnesota's side of things.
It should be noted, however, that three of the team's best tacklers in the run game – Kevin Williams, Jared Allen and Antoine Winfield – sat out the game and things might have been much different had they been playing, but the reality was that the Vikings got scorched on the ground and will be looking to right the ship this week against Buffalo.
However, that won't be easy. While the Bills lost their preseason opener 7-6 to the Redskins, it wasn't because of the running game. Even without their top two running backs – Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller – Buffalo ran 23 times for 90 yards. While not an impressive total, Jackson and Spiller weren't playing and one of the anticipated battles of the preseason was Spiller, a former first-round pick, pushing Jackson for his starting spot.
Jackson was off to a huge season in 2011 before suffering a broken fibula. In his first nine games, he rushed for 917 yards (including six 100-yard rushing days) and caught 34 passes. He was putting up Pro Bowl numbers. When he went down, Spiller, who was in his second season, took over and showed why he was viewed as a first-round draft pick. He was a focus of the offense in both the run and pass game and showed explosiveness and big-play ability that was missing in his rookie season.
The competition is between Jackson and Spiller as both head into the season with each believing he should be the No. 1 featured back, and the Bills are likely to let both of them make his case. With former Cowboy Tashard Choice looking to land a roster spot, he will likely find himself significantly in the mix.
Complicating matters is that backup QB Vince Young is in the picture as well. Last week, the Vikings got burned on a long touchdown run by 49ers backup QB Colin Kaepernick. Young, a former blue-chip draft pick of the Tennessee Titans, led the Bills in rushing last week, scrambling five times for 37 yards. While not viewed as a contender to unseat starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, Young is looking to hold off former Viking Tyler Thigpen for the No. 2 spot. A big game against the Vikings would go a long way to solidifying his position as Fitzpatrick's backup.
Look for the Bills to try to force-feed the run against the Vikings – and for good reason. When the Bills coaching staff watched tape of the Vikings game at San Francisco, they had to be excited about the chances they have in being successful in the running game.
Williams, Allen and Winfield are all expected to start against the Bills, but the game will be played over four quarters and the same defenders that struggled against the 49ers reserves will be asked to stop the Buffalo running game, which may be as tough or tougher than what the 49ers offered up – making this the key matchup at the preseason home opener.
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: Run stoppers vs. Bills RBs
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