The Vikings face a double feature tonight against the New England Patriots.
In most games this season, the Vikings have had the benefit of being able to key on one main running back. But few teams pack the 1-2 punch in the backfield that New England can, which is one reason the Patriots are off to a 5-1 start.
Patriots rookie Laurence Maroney has 86 carries for 361 yards (4.2-yard average) and three touchdowns. Maroney, a former Minnesota Gopher, is stocky and strong at 5-11, 220 pounds. Corey Dillon, a 10-year veteran, has 82 carries for 328 yards (4.0-yard average) and four touchdowns. Dillon, a seven-time 1,000-yard rusher with 73 career touchdowns, is slightly taller at 6-1, 225 pounds.
The hands of the Vikings' defenders will be full tonight.
"A lot of times you have to prepare for a featured back when the reality is that these guys have two featured backs," Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin said. "So sometimes you can win the game of attrition if you beat on a featured back and over the course of time wear him down. They have two guys that have feature-back characteristics. It's legitimate. These two guys can tote the load and carry the ball 30 times a football game, both of them.
"When you have two guys like that, sometimes you lose a little bit of the attrition battle in terms of beating on someone's running back, and that's why they're so good. They've got two featured backs – both appear to be unselfish in that regard. They both run hard. It's going to be a tremendous challenge."
But rather than focus on one over the other, the Vikings defense views the pieces as part of the whole.
"They are both good backs," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "We don't focus on one more than the other. We just look at stopping their overall running game."
One reason the defense might not key on the specific characteristics of Maroney or Dillon is their styles are similar. So looking for tendencies might be counterproductive.
"They really don't (have tendencies)," Vikings head coach Brad Childress said. "I think they are prideful, and usually what you do over a bye is you evaluate yourself and see if there are any of those tendencies, run and pass. Both of those guys can do both things. Then you throw (Kevin) Faulk in the mix and obviously he can catch the football extended."
But since both Maroney and Dillon are capable feature backs, the Vikings might increase their defensive rotations to keep players fresh.
"We tend to try to do that anyway week to week, but it is a challenge and not necessarily anything that we have to do," Vikings coordinator Mike Tomlin said. "It's just the fact that you go in knowing that as you continue to hit the back and pound the run that they're going to be less likely to wear out as opposed to if you were playing somebody that had one featured back."
The Vikings rushing defense is ranked first in the NFL, giving up a paltry average of 70.8 yards per game. Improving the run defense was one of Tomlin's main concerns when he was hired last winter.
"Anybody will tell you if you want a chance to play good defense in this league, you have to stop the run, so that's priority number one and it always will be regardless of who our opponent is," Tomlin said. "Our number one goal is to shut down the running game. It doesn't necessarily mean we're always going to be successful, but that's our intent. There are a lot of great offensive teams, great offensive lines, running backs, offensive coordinators, etc. We face one of the very best this week."
Maroney, Dillon Present Double Trouble
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