Talented backs lead Vikes, Rams

Published 2:04 pm Saturday, November 7, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS — Comparison games are the low-hanging fruit of NFL analysis and storytelling. Parallels between players can easily be forced.

The similarities between Todd Gurley and Adrian Peterson, though, are too striking to ignore. The rookie sensation with St. Louis and the ninth-year star for Minnesota will square off Sunday.

“If I was at home watching,” Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said, “it’d be a matchup that I’d love to see. Luckily, I get to take part in it. I can’t wait to see Adrian run and can’t wait to see our defense slow Todd down.”

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Easier said than done, of course.

Gurley, the 10th overall pick in the draft out of Georgia, has become the first player in league history with 125-plus yards rushing in four straight games. With 575 yards over his first five NFL games, including a mere 9 on six carries in his debut, Gurley has the third-highest total to start a career. Eric Dickerson had 645 yards in his first five games for the Rams in 1983. Peterson put up 607 yards for the Vikings in 2007.

Gurley stiff-armed the Peterson comparisons thrown at him by reporters this week.

“There’s only one AP. Like you said, he’s the gold standard. You can consider him as the best,” Gurley said.

There’s a violent, explosive style that both Gurley and Peterson run with. Their ability to read the defense and accelerate through the holes is also a common element.

Then there’s the ACL recovery. Peterson came back in about nine months from his knee injury to win the MVP award in 2012. Gurley was back in a little more than 10 months.

“He’s very impressive. I like that aggression,” Peterson said.

Here are some key angles for the game between the Rams (4-3) and Vikings (5-2):

Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who went to Wayzata High School in suburban Minneapolis, will play his first professional game in his home state. Laurinaitis was an avid Vikings fan as a kid, peaking in the 1998 season when Randy Moss was a rookie and the team went 15-1.

“It’s going to be one of those cool, surreal moments,” Laurinaitis said, looking ahead to Sunday.

The Rams’ defense has stayed dominant with a deep rotation that’s helped stem the loss of two top starters, outside linebacker Alec Ogletree (broken ankle) and defensive end Chris Long (knee). Ogletree, on injured reserve with a designation to return, would be eligible to play in the last two games. Long will miss his third straight game this week.

Still, the Rams have allowed four field goals and no touchdowns over the last two games. The 189 yards they yielded to San Francisco last week was the sixth-lowest total in the league this season. Safety Mark Barron replaced Ogletree, tying him for the team lead with 55 tackles.

“I sit back and watch defenses like them, and it waters my mouth just to see guys go out there and play football that way,” Peterson said.

Tavon Austin was long gone to the Rams with the eighth overall pick when the Vikings were up in the 2013 draft. His skill set has parallels to Percy Harvin, who thrived in a similar multi-use role for Minnesota until being traded to Seattle six weeks before St. Louis selected Austin.

Austin has five touchdowns in the last four games. His 98 yards receiving against the 49ers were the second-highest total of his career. Austin is averaging 11.9 yards per reception, 8.3 yards per rush and 11.3 yards per punt return this season.

“Bubble screens, getting him in space with the ball, tossing the ball to him, handing the ball off to him, so he can do a lot of things well,” Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. “He’s a great athlete and a guy, with the ball in his hands, who’s very dangerous.”

Rookie Stefon Diggs has quickly emerged as Bridgewater’s go-to target, with 419 yards and two touchdowns receiving in the four games he’s played. The success doesn’t appear to have made him complacent.

“I know what the feeling of great is. I don’t feel great yet,” Diggs said. “I’m all right.”

The Vikings will face teams currently in line for the playoffs in six of their last nine games, plus two more against opponents, including the Rams, that are right behind them in the NFC wild-card race. The combined record of Minnesota’s last nine foes is 42-25.

“We have some challenges ahead of us, so we’re really being able to see what we’re all about,” Peterson said.