Willie Parker vs. the Williams Wall
Through the first two games of the preseason, many of the Vikings have looked impressive. Tarvaris Jackson has looked sharp in his two appearances, Jared Allen has shown what makes him one of the most feared defensive ends in the league and the pass defense looks improved despite missing Madieu Williams. The problem, of all things, has been the run defense – making the battle between Kevin Williams and Pat Williams against Willie Parker this week's Matchup to Watch.
The Vikings have had the league's best rushing defense the last two years, which has gone a long way in explaining why the team made Madieu Williams on of its first free-agent signings and made safety Tyrell Johnson and cornerbacks Cedric Griffin and Marcus McCauley high draft picks in the previous two years. Teams would often abandon the run and throw almost exclusively, feeling that they could achieve much more success by being one-dimensional rather than running plays that gained little to nothing. That, however, has changed in the early part of the preseason.
In the opener against Seattle, career backup Maurice Morris gashed the Vikings defense for big gains, picking up 62 yards on just six carries against the first-team defense. Last week against the Ravens, rookie Ray Rice – filling in for the injured Willis McGahee – gained 70 yards on his first six rushing attempts against the Vikings, including a 42-yard burst early in the game. While both running backs have talent, Morris has never proved he can be a full-time starter and Rice was playing in just his second professional game. Parker brings a lot more to the table than either of them and will be a strong test for the Williams Wall.
While standing just 5-foot-10 and weighing 209 pounds, the knock on Parker was that he couldn't be a full-time workhorse in an NFL offense. But, in the two years since Jerome Bettis retired, Parker has carried the ball a whopping 658 times in 31 games – an average of 21 carries a game. He has excellent straight-line speed and, while he rarely puts the big move on an opponent, he gets into the hole quickly and, if the defensive linemen don't have an immediate read on him, he can blow past them in an instant.
The third game of the preseason is touted as the most watchable game for fans because the starters play for extended periods and it is more of a true measuring stick as to what a team's strengths and weaknesses are than in any other game during the preseason. Vikings fans know that the Williams Brothers have been dominant the last two seasons and are looking to keep that in their arsenal this time around. With all of the questions that have been answered, one that wasn't even expected to be asked was "what's up with the run defense?"
The Vikings need to make a statement that they're still the best run defense in the league and that nobody runs roughshod over them. Through two games, they have yet to make that point. They will need to against a Steelers team that has Parker, first-round rookie Rashard Mendenhall and former Viking Mewelde Moore all figuring in the mix. If they can't shut down this group, the questions will persist – making this the Matchup to Watch Saturday night.
Matchup to Watch: Parker vs. Run Defense
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