FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Vince Wilfork likes to tangle in the trenches with big running backs. He’ll face one of the biggest on Sunday.
The next load charging at the 330-pound defensive tackle of the New England Patriots will be 240-pound Steven Jackson of the St. Louis Rams, a durable player who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the last seven seasons.
The Rams "can line up and run the ball three straight times, four straight times, if they’re successful doing it," Wilfork said Thursday before the Patriots red-eye flight to London for the game. "They have no problem putting the ball in their running backs’ hands to get tough yards, or even a long distance."
Jackson is not having one of his better years. He’s just 20th in the NFL with 380 yards rushing, a pace that would give him 869 yards for the season. And he didn’t score his first touchdown until last Sunday’s 30-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
He’s only faced the Patriots once, when he was a rookie and gained one yard on three carries. But they know his size makes him dangerous.
"He’s a big guy," New England defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. "He’s strong. When you have some size and speed it definitely makes it a lot harder to tackle somebody. So you’ve just got to make sure that you really get your hat on him."
The Patriots pass defense has gotten most of the attention, a lot of it
Or maybe the Patriots have very talented run stuffers.
So far the Patriots have faced six of the NFL’s top 16 runners with only one rushing for more than 54 yards. That was Ray Rice, who gained 101 in the Baltimore Ravens’ 31-30 win.
Last Sunday, the Patriots held Shonn Greene of the New York Jets to 54 yards on 16 carries one week after he rushed for a career-high 161. In their previous game, they limited Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks to 41 yards on 15 carries, one week before he gained 103. And in the game before that, the Patriots kept Willie McGahee of the Denver Broncos to 51 yards on 14 carries one week after he ran for 112.
There are more impressive numbers.
Opponents have averaged 3.3 yards per carry, second fewest in the NFL. They’ve scored three touchdowns on the ground and have only 10 runs of more than 10 yards. The Patriots are averaging 4.2 yards with 10 touchdowns and 28 carries of more than 10 yards.
Last year, the Patriots gave up 4.6 yards per rush, tied for eighth most.