Adrian Peterson vs. Ray Lewis
One of the purposes of the preseason is for offenses and defenses to work out the kinks in what they do right and what they've done wrong in the previous games. For the Vikings, one of the things they have yet to do in the preseason is unleash Adrian Peterson. With opponents expected to pack the box against him with as many as eight defenders, he is going to have to deal with it. But, when the opponent has a dominant inside linebacker, the propensity isn't to commit eight men in the box, which makes the battle between A.D. and perennial Ravens All-Pro Ray Lewis this week's Matchup to Watch.
It's hard to believe that Lewis is entering his 13th NFL season, but the Ravens' tackling machine hasn't shown any signs of wearing down. While he doesn't run as fast or with the same ferocity he did in his earlier years, he is incredibly instinctive and rarely misses tackles. He is part of a linebacker crew in the Ravens' 3-4 defense that includes established star players Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs flanking Lewis on either side, but Big Ray is still the heart and soul as well as the emotional leader of the defense.
For the Vikings, although only in his second season, much the same can be said about Peterson. He is the straw that stirs the drink for the Vikings and, even if he isn't getting the ball, he is the center of attention for the opposing defense. Every opposing linebacker is aware of what Peterson can do and all of them look for the knockout shot on him. When the Vikings stunned Seattle last week by not running once in the first quarter and scripting their first 10 offensive plays to all be passes, it was to prove a point that the team doesn't have to run constantly to be effective on offense. Against a team like the Ravens, that policy likely won't work.
With one of the most aggressive defenses in the league, the Ravens version of the 3-4 is predicated on getting pressure from the defensive line to create blitzing lanes for the linebackers. If a team becomes one-dimensional and tries to pass too often, they play into the hands of the defense – which is poised to attack at any opening. That is where Peterson comes in.
To keep an aggressive defense at bay, an offense must use that same aggression against them. If the Ravens want to bring the kitchen sink on blitzes against the Vikings, it is up to the running game to do that. If the Vikings are to be forced to pass, it is the job of the linebackers in general and Lewis in particular to make sure that the Vikings end up with unfavorable down-and-distance numbers. It's difficult to run on second-and-10 or third-and-7 and it will be Lewis' assignment to spy A.D., following him if he goes in motion and sifting through the linemen to get to him when he gets the ball.
It won't be an easy assignment for either player. If the Vikings' first-team offense is to succeed, it will likely be dependent on Peterson and former Raven Chester Taylor shouldering much of the load. If the Ravens are going to put the onus on Tarvaris Jackson to beat them, it will be Lewis and his linebacker mates that will be responsible to make the Vikings offense one-dimensional, making this the Matchup to Watch Saturday night.
Matchup to Watch: A.D. vs. R.L.
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