Patriots prepare for rhino-sized runner out of Southern Illinois
Here's a blast from the past.
Remember Christian Okoye, the “Nigerian Nightmare”? Junior Seau does. As an AFC West defender for the back half of Okoye's all-too-brief, six-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs, Seau was charged with tackling the 6-1, 253-pound running back, who seemingly made the ground shake with every footstep.
“Okoye was a beast,” Seau recalled. “That guy's a good friend of mine now, but he definitely was a player who came into the league and started a different type of running style. Marty Schottenheimer did a great job of putting some (blockers) in front of him, but he was bigger than a lineman.”
We bring up Okoye's name because Seau and the rest of the Patriots defense have another rhino-sized runner in their sights. At 6-4, 264, Brandon Jacobs -- the Giants' third-year pro out of mighty Southern Illinois (he transferred from Auburn) -- outdoes Okoye in terms of sheer size.
Hence the stroll down memory lane for Seau, who reports that Okoye is “living the good life” in California these days, running his own charitable organization.
Asked if Jacobs reminded him of the ex-Chiefs bruiser, Seau said, “I can see that. He's definitely a powerful guy who runs downhill and has great leg lift. He's a bigger back than normal.”
Jacobs, who outweighs every Patriots linebacker except Adalius Thomas (270), also stands as the single biggest obstacle to the Patriots' pursuit of the first 16-0 regular season in NFL history. Giants' quarterback Eli Manning has been scattershot, and he'll once again be without tight end Jeremy Shockey (out for the year with a broken leg). If the Giants (10-5) are to pull off the upset, they'll have to hitch their wagon to Jacobs and hope he can plow through the Pats' 10th-ranked run defense.
Of course, that's assuming that Giants coach Tom Coughlin doesn't pull his starters out early.
New England has allowed only three 100-yard rushers all season, but two of them have come this month – Baltimore's Willis McGahee (30 carries for 138 yards) and Pittsburgh's Willie Parker (21-124). Ever since Rosevelt Colvin's injury forced Thomas to move from inside to outside linebacker, the Patriots have appeared vulnerable on the ground. In the 11 games before Colvin went out, opponents averaged 86.2 rushing yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry against the Pats, who were ranked fifth against the run.
In four games since the linebacking corps was shuffled – with the 247-pound Bruschi and the 250-pound Seau locked into the middle -- those numbers have risen to 136.3 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry.
Now here comes Jacobs, who should be wearing a license plate instead of a number.
“Well, he thumps you,” Coughlin said. “That's basically his game.”
Jacobs was a short-yardage/goal-line back for his first two seasons, during which he scored 16 touchdowns. But Coughlin had no qualms about giving him the full-time load this year after Tiki Barber retired. So far, so good. Jacobs has 944 yards, despite missing five games with knee and hamstring injuries. He's ranked 18th in the league, but only two runners ahead of him average more than his 5.1 yards per carry.
In last week's 38-21 road win over the Bills, Jacobs (25-143) and seventh-round rookie Ahmad Bradshaw (17-151) had career-best days, giving the Giants two 100-yard backs in the same game for the first time in franchise history. New York rushed for 291 yards, its highest total since 1959.
The Patriots' defense has achieved a lot this season. They are tied with Tampa Bay for the fewest points allowed (239), and their last three opponents are a combined 0-for-9 in scoring touchdowns in the red zone – a welcome turn of events, given how shabby the Patriots had played there for most of the year.
Jacobs looms large as the last item on their regular-season to-do list.
Safety Rodney Harrison said a defensive back tackling him would be “like a Ferrari meeting a Mack truck, but we'll see what happens.”
“With a quicker back (like Miami's Lorenzo Booker last week) you really have to break down and hopefully get a hand on him,” Bruschi said. “With Jacobs, you really have to focus on where you hit him because if you watch him on film, a lot of guys hit him up high and they sort of bounce off. You have to really wrap up, be fundamentally sound, focus on the hips and hopefully your buddies come and help you out a little bit.”
“You have to stay low,” Seau said, “and you need about six guys.”
Just like old times.
The Patriot Ledger