Vikings stressing run defense vs. Jets

The Vikings know they can win if they stop the Jets’ running game, but that’s easier said than done with two very different backs.

To look at the New York Jets from an outsider’s view, it isn’t that difficult to see why the Jets have a 2-10 record and their season is long since over. Their quarterback play has been hideous and their pass defense has been atrocious as well.

But one of the fundamental tenets of successful football is to be able to successfully run the ball and, with all their faults, the Jets have the second-ranked rush offense in the NFL, which helps make up for having the 32nd-ranked passing attack.

The Jets are running the ball more than 30 times a game, are averaging almost 5 yards a carry and have two potential threats coming out of the backfield in Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson. While neither Ivory nor Johnson is a bell-cow running back – Ivory has more than 15 carries in just three games and last week’s game with Miami was the first time Johnson had more than 13 carries in a game – they have shown the ability to be a dangerous tandem and, given the sheer numbers they’ve put up in terms of carries per game, they’ve definitely got the Vikings’ attention.

“They’ve got a good set of backs,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “Johnson, he can hit the home run, and Ivory can too. So our biggest thing is stay in your gaps, farm your own land and get them down when you’ve got to get them down.”

Coming off a game in which the Carolina Panthers found plenty of the success against the Vikings – the trio of Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton combined to rush 28 times for 155 yards – the Vikings know they need to clean things up. Even if they aren’t enjoying a lot of success, the Jets aren’t going to abandon the run. If the Vikings continue to struggle with tackling and bottling up runs, the Jets won’t go away from the ground, so players like Chad Greenway know the task in front of them.

“Their run game is tough,” Greenway said. “The Panthers’ run game, it was multiple. They were pulling different guys in movement and all sorts of stuff. We didn’t do as well on that as we wanted to, but when you’re able to win it tends to make things OK. We’ve got to get better at that and that’s just on us.”

Given New York’s propensity to run – at one point in Monday night’s loss to Miami, the Jets had run 47 times and threw just eight passes – the goal for the Vikings will be to throttle the run and force the Jets to pass, something the Jets have struggled with all season.

“That’s what they do so we’re going to be tested again this week,” Greenway said. “We really want to make them throw the football. They can do it, but we know how good they are in the run game so if we can slow them down in the run game and that would really help us out.”

Ivory and Johnson couldn’t be more dissimilar backs for a defense to handle. Ivory has earned the nickname Beast East because of his similarity to Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Mode” with the Seahawks. Ivory doesn’t do anything too flashy. He’s a straight-line runner who initiates contact and rarely goes down when the first defender gets his hands on him. Since Week 1, he hasn’t had a run of more than 17 yards, but he is a banger who will lower his head and consistently gain yards after contact.

Johnson is a polar opposite. He makes his yards on the perimeter, taking plays outside in hopes of getting into space and making tacklers miss. A former 2,000-yard runner, Johnson isn’t the same back he was in his salad days with Tennessee, but he is still a threat to take a carry to the house at any time.

Because they’re so different, the Vikings will make minor adjustments to the run defense depending on which back is on the field.

“We don’t change things up because of the team we’re playing against,” defensive end Brian Robison. “We’re more focused on doing what we have to do on defense. But we will be checking on plays to see which one of them is in the game because they’re such different backs. Ivory is pretty much a north-and-south guy and Johnson likes to hit the corner and get his yards that way. We have to be prepared for both of them and be aware of which one is on the field for a given play.”

Teams that have been able to bottle up the Jets run game have enjoyed tremendous success against them because the bottom line has been that New York can’t beat teams with the passing game. If the run game stalls, the entire offense sputters.

Every defense in the league preaches stopping the run and forcing teams to be one-dimensional on offense. The Vikings have the capability of shutting down the run and it will be a must because few teams run as much as the Jets do, and taking away that component of their offense could make for a long day for QB Geno Smith, who typically folds under pressure when asked to shoulder the load for the New York offense.

“It all starts and ends with stopping the run for us, especially against a team like the Jets,” middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley said. “We haven’t done as a good a job as we can or should stopping the run and we know they’re going to try to run as often as possible. If we can make it hard for them to get anything on the ground, then we can put it on (Smith) to try to move them. That’s when we pin our ears back and get after the quarterback. It all starts with stopping the running game and that’s our focus for this week.”

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