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Why Fred Jackson puts a lot of fear into the Patriots

09.23.11 at 10:02 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork isn’t easily impressed or put in awe by the opposition. But Fred Jackson is certainly an exception to that rule – and for good reason.

Jackson has started 2011 with games of 112 games against the Chiefs and 117 more last week in a 38-34 come-from-behind win over the Raiders. Jackson is averaging 6.5 yards per carry, totaling 229 yards on the ground so far, both tops in the NFL through two weeks.

He isn’t mentioned in the same class as Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice or LeSean McCoy. But maybe the product of tiny Division III Coe College should be. Wilfork certainly has seen enough of him in the last four seasons to think so.

“Fred Jackson, he is so underrated,” Wilfork raved this week. “This guy, I think I said it a couple of years ago and I know I said it last year, he is so underrated. He’€™s just one of those tough backs. You can give him the ball 30 times if you want to. And Spiller, he’€™s just speed. He will kill you on the ground and in the air. Those two together make a good team, a good running attack. So, we have our hands full. It’€™s going to be challenging for us once again. I think every week so far we’€™ve been challenged.”

But a further look into the numbers reveal that the Patriots – thanks in part to their continued 15-game domination of the Bills – have been spared huge games from Jackson. The Patriots have led in every game against Buffalo, taking the running game away and forcing the game into the hands of Ryan Fitzpatrick.

When given the chance, Jackson has been very productive against the Patriots, averaging 4.83 yards per carry in seven games dating back to 2007. But beware of Jackson as a receiver out of the backfield, with 16 catches for 146 yards in those seven games.

“He’€™s been doing it his whole career,” Pats coach Bill Belichick said. “There’€™s really no weak points with that guy, he does everything well. [He] runs hard, breaks tackles, good vision, good balance, catches the ball well, outstanding as a blocker, exceptional, blitz pickup, even when they ask him to run block which occasionally they do with their different personnel groupings.”

Our friends at Pro Football Focus point out just how big of a challenge Jackson is this weekend:

Jackson sits atop our running back Elusive ratings at 137.1, including forcing 12 missed tackles in two games. He’€™s also a weapon in the passing game and [Chan] Gailey has used some creative packages to get both Jackson and explosive RB CJ Spiller on the field at the same time. If too much attention is given to Jackson, look for a few designed plays for Spiller, either out of the backfield or in the slot.

At 6-foot-1, and 210 pounds, Jackson can run by or through defenses. And he can do it on offense or special teams. In 2009, Jackson also had 1014 kickoff return yards making him the first player in NFL history to compile 1000 rushing and kickoff return yards. The 2,516 combined yards are the fourth-highest total in NFL history.

“He’€™s good at everything,” Belichick added. “We know he can return, we know he can play in the kicking game ‘€“ it’€™s just a question of what they ask him to do. He’€™s really outstanding. He’€™s one of the best backs in the league. I would say no weak points. I don’€™t know what the weak points would be.”

In 2006, Jackson was invited to training camp with the Buffalo Bills by none other than Marv Levy, a Coe alum. He made his first career start against the Redskins in 2007, rushing for 82 yards while catching four passes for 69 yards in a Bills victory. He became the first Division III running back to start an NFL game since Dec. 24, 2000, when former Ferrum College running back Chris Warren started for the Eagles.

After three impressive seasons, the Bills finally extended Jackson with a four-year deal on May 13, 2009.

Jackson responded in kind that season. After winning the starting job from Marshawn Lynch in Week 12, Jackson eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career with 1062 yards and two touchdowns. He also set a career high in catches with 46 for 371 yards and two touchdowns, while adding a 27-yard touchdown pass for good measure.

Ask the Patriots now, they certainly won’t be underrating or overlooking Fred Jackson this Sunday.

Read More: Adrian Peterson, Bill Belichick, Buffalo Bills, Fred Jackson
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