Viking Update has been doing the Matchup To Watch for five years now and we dare say that there has never been a 7-to-1 matchup as the difference-maker for a game. But, as the Vikings prepare for the San Diego Chargers Sunday, the battle of the Vikings' front seven against L.T. is clearly the Matchup To Watch this week.
If the matchup requires defending, let's rewind one year. Through seven games of the 2006 season, Tomlinson was very good, but not great. By the time the season ended, defensive coordinators were shaking their heads and the Chargers were on their way to locking down the best record in the NFL. Why? Tomlinson.
Through seven games last season, Tomlinson had 150 carries for 656 yards and 13 touchdowns (11 rushing, two receiving). By the times the season was over, L.T. had 345 carries for 1,815 yards on the ground and had a league-record 31 touchdowns. There has never been a scoring threat as hot as L.T. was – in an 11-game span from the Chargers' fifth game of the season until the 14th game when they had home field locked down – he scored two or more touchdowns in 10 of those games. In that same time frame, he rushed for 100 or more yards in nine consecutive games.
The Chargers were confident enough in Tomlinson's ability to carry their offense that they let quarterback Drew Brees go via free agency to let untested Philip Rivers take over the offense. While Rivers' numbers were relatively pedestrian, the Chargers had a 14-2 record last year. There was one primary reason – the ability of L.T. to change games by taking them over.
His ability as both a runner and receiver have made him the most dangerous offensive threat on the ground of any player in the league. To stop Tomlinson is to stop San Diego's offense. If the Chargers are to beat the Vikings Sunday, forcing them to beat them through the air is Job One. For that to happen, the Vikings defense will have to limit Tomlinson's production.
Ordinarily, one would assume that the interior of the Vikings defensive line would have to do the job. However, his ability to bounce runs outside and as a receiver in the Chargers' passing game make him a threat in so many situations that the entire front seven will be given the responsibility of containing him – much like Vikings opponents this year have learned with Adrian Peterson, you can't shut him down, you hope just to contain him.
If the Vikings defense can force San Diego to go another direction other than Tomlinson, the advantage falls clearly into their hands. Early in the season, teams loaded up against L.T. and he didn't have much success. Since then, he has hit his stride and has looked much like the same player that won the MVP award last season.
If the Vikings are to have any chance of winning Sunday, stopping Tomlinson will be the top priority. One player or two players can't make that happen. If what could well be his only visit to the Metrodome is one that he ends up regretting, it will be the job of the defensive line and the linebacker corps to stop him. He's that good. If you stop L.T., you stop the Chargers, making this 7-on-1 battle the Matchup To Watch this week.