At times there are certain matchups in the NFL that scream of teams with similar styles going head-to-head in a war of attrition. A Baltimore-Tennessee matchup typically signals a defensive struggle that is low scoring. A battle between the Colts and Patriots usually means the football will be in the air early and often.
Sunday's game between the Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars has many of those same components. Both teams have made their name on offense by having a strong running game. The Vikings have the tandem of Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, while Jacksonville counters with the gruesome twosome of Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor.
In 2007, Jones-Drew and Taylor combined to rush 390 times for 1,970 yards and 14 touchdowns. Jones-Drew did most of the damage early and Taylor came on strong during the playoff push of the Jags in November and December – topping 100 yards rushing in each of the last five games he played. They have both carried the ball 115 times through the first 10 games of the season – Taylor carrying 115 times for 446 yards and Jones-Drew carrying 115 times for 499 yards and 11 touchdowns. Individually, their numbers don't rank them near the top of NFL running backs, but, in combination, they are a destructive combination. Of the 21 offensive touchdowns scored by Jacksonville this year, 13 have come on the ground, with just eight coming on pass plays.
While many around the league consider the Vikings tandem as the top running back duo in the league, Vikings defensive tackle Pat Williams said that the combination of MJD and Taylor is better than the dynamic duo that has propelled the Titans to the top of the league – rookie Chris Johnson and short-yardage back LenDale White.
"I think (Jacksonville's) backs are better than Tennessee's backs," Williams said. "I think they've got the second-best tandem of backs in the league (behind us). I'm always going to put our guys first."
The key to slowing them down, according to Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams, is to not allow them to get free and for the defense to lose sight of them. Both are dangerous runners every time they touch the ball and Williams says staying with the basics of the Vikings' defensive scheme is the top priority.
"You've just got to stay true to your keys and hone in on them," Williams said. "They're small guys that can slip out of any hole that you give them, so we'll have to maintain our gaps and take care of their running game."
Vikings wide receiver Bobby Wade is one of the few Vikings that has first-hand experience dealing with both of them. He played with the Titans during Jone-Drew's rookie year and said that the two are completely different style backs. The Jaguars don't use one as a proverbial "change-of-pace" back. They are interchangeable and each has his own skill set that he brings to the table.
"The biggest problem is that they bring a different tempo between the two of them," Wade said. "Whenever you can mix and match like they do and still be productive out of the backfield, you've got your hands full. They're very dangerous. Being able to play them twice a year when I was in Tennessee, they finish runs and score touchdowns."
Coming into Sunday's game, the Vikings will be focusing on keeping the running backs in check. While David Garrard is a solid quarterback, the Jacksonville offense is about as run-oriented as any in the league. With a relatively non-descript receiver corps, when the Jaguars are successful, it is typically when Jones-Drew, Taylor or both get untracked and the running game dictates the pace of the game.
"It's the tailbacks you have to stop," Pat Williams said. "They've got a fast one and they've got a strong one. We have to make (David) Garrard beat us. The running game is all they've got, so we have to stop that."
While stopping the run will be the top priority of both defenses, Pat Williams said that bigger focus should be on the offensive lines for both teams. Everybody in the stadium will know what the game plan will be for both teams – establish the run and stick with it if it is successful. As Williams views it, it will be just as important, if not more important, for the offensive lines to keep the defensive lines in check. If they can't, neither running game will have as much of an impact as it might appear.
"They've got to stop us," Pat Williams said. "Before those tailbacks can run the ball, their offensive line has to stop us first. That will be the challenge for them."
Vikes-Jags: A battle of running wills?
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