Key matchup: Battle of the ball carriers

There is little questioning where the strengths lie for each offense in Sunday's game between the Vikings and 49ers. Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore are at the top of their games right now.


Usually when you analyze a matchup for a game, it centers on one dynamic player on offense against another dynamic player on defense or perhaps a potential mismatch that can be exploited. But heading into Sunday's game with San Francisco, the two most important people on the field likely will be Adrian Peterson of the Vikings and Frank Gore of the 49ers. Although they won't be on the field at the same time, they are this week's matchup to watch.

Through two weeks of the season, Peterson and Gore rank in the top three in rushing in the NFL. A.P. leads the league with 272 yards on 40 carries and Gore is third with 237 yards on 38 carries. Both of them have put in game-changing performances as well. In Week 1, Peterson led all runners with 180 yards on 25 carries and scored three touchdowns. In Week 2, Gore won NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors by rushing for a new league-high 207 yards on just 16 carries with touchdown runs of 80 and 78 yards.

Both teams have made it clear that they are run-first offenses. While Brett Favre has been extremely efficient, completing passes at a 75-percent clip, almost all of them have been short, controlled passes that move the chains and allow the Vikings to use the running game to dominate time of possession. The same is true for the 49ers, who have almost as many running plays (54) as passes thrown (57). It's no secret what the plan of attack is going to be – put the ball in the hands of their dominant running backs and let them do that voodoo that they do so well.

What has been different about the way the two running backs have sparked their offenses has been when it has happened. The Vikings have struggled in the first half of both of their games – trailing each at halftime before overpowering the Browns and Lions in the second half, outscoring them 44-10. The 49ers, on the other hand, have jumped out to early leads in both of their games, scoring four times in the first quarter and outscoring their opponents 16-0 to build early leads that they haven't surrendered. If that trend continues Sunday, the Vikings might find it much more difficult to come back on the 49ers than they did against Cleveland and Detroit.

While Peterson has been a darling of the media since joining the league in 2007, the road has been different for Gore. There was no questioning his talent coming out of college, but, after having a pair of knee surgeries, many teams all but eliminated Gore on their draft boards. Despite having solid intangibles and a clear understanding of his role in the run offense, he fell to the 49ers in the third round, where the medical staff's concerns weren't as pronounced as it was for teams in the first two rounds. Since the final game of his rookie season, Gore has played in 48 games, rushing for 4,178 yards with 16 100-yard games and seven more in which he had more than 85 yards rushing.

He has silenced his detractors and made a lot of fans of his running style, including Peterson.

"He runs hard," Peterson said. "Actually, I have been watching Frank Gore since (he was at the University of) Miami. I love the way he runs the ball. He's a guy that if I'm clicking through the channels and see the 49ers playing, I am going to stop and see how he is running ball and how he looks out there. He is a great downhill runner. He is good moving side-to-side. (He is) just a complete back."

It's safe to say that Gore is likely a fan of Peterson as well, who has continued to run at a record-setting pace of yards-per-game from the start of his career. Both the Vikings and 49ers have built their offenses around their star running backs and, when the hitting starts on Sunday, it wouldn't be surprising to see both of them run the ball 20 times or more. What remains to be seen is which one will be more effective. Both have shown the ability to take over and change games in an instant with long touchdown runs. Whichever one has the bigger game will likely go a long way to determining who wins and who loses Sunday.

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