FOXBOROUGH — 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 negative. It has been vulnerable to big plays and has allowed the fourth most yards passing in the league. Opponents’ eagerness to exploit that could be one reason they haven’t rolled up big rushing numbers. Only seven teams have given up more yards on the ground than the Patriots.