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Battle of the big running backs: Lynch vs. Blount

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Around The NFL will look at one compelling matchup or comparison each day leading up to Super Bowl XLIX. Today: Marshawn Lynch vs. LeGarrette Blount.

Seattle's Marshawn Lynch and New England's LeGarrette Blount each played pivotal roles to help tug their teams into the promised land.

With both runners set to star in Super Bowl XLIX, let's take a closer look at these two hard-charging backs:

Lynch to the rescue -- again


Think back to the middle of October ...

Days after trading away failed X-factor Percy Harvin, the defending champion Seattle Seahawks go out and lose a stunner to the Rams to fall to 3-3.

With the defending champs under fire by football-watchers everywhere, tension inside the building is tangible, with a handful of Seahawks players openly campaigning for a return to the team's "downhill-running ethos." After six weeks of trying to squeeze Harvin into the game plan, the locker room was calling out for its heart and soul: Marshawn Lynch.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell responded.

After just a pair of 20-plus carry performances over his first six starts, Lynch has averaged 18.5 attempts per outing since Week 7, crossing the 20-tote barrier seven times. We noticed a tangible uptick in his play in a Week 9 romp over the Raiders that saw Beast Mode pile up 143 total yards and two rushing touchdowns. Lynch returned the following week to lash the Giants for 140 yards and a career-best four scores off 21 tries.

Almost every game since has seen Lynch operate as a difference-maker, especially when it mattered most in January's run to Super Bowl XLIX.

Lynch's 157 yards in the NFC title game was the burning engine behind Seattle's torrid comeback against the Packers. With 120 of those yards coming in the second half, Lynch showed off his hard-charging style by carrying defenders with him for extra yardage. Game Rewind shows a runner who churned his legs with fury, willing Seattle's offense to life. Green Bay's collapse was a multifaceted disaster, but it was Lynch who turned the tide:

"He was just alive -- ripping," coach Pete Carroll said after the game, adding: "It's been an extraordinary season that he's put out here, because he's been so consistent for so long and he's been so physically right for so long. ... He looked explosive again. He looked fast. His attitude is always there. He was able to take advantage of space and sometimes no space ... He just would not go down."

Lynch has been a highlight machine down the stretch. Who else can do this?

The Patriots boast a nasty secondary, but their run defense has allowed single-game outputs of 153, 191, 207 and 218 yards this season. After watching the Ravens blast New England for 136 yards on the ground two weeks ago, we expect Lynch to see as many as 25 carries on Sunday.

How does Bill Belichick counter? Perhaps as he did in Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams, concentrating the game plan on running back Marshall Faulk. The Patriots went out of their way to attack Faulk whether he had the ball or not, hitting him especially hard on pass routes. But that was aimed more at disrupting a runner who caught 81 balls out of the backfield in 2000. Lynch isn't used that way, meaning that Vince Wilfork and friends will have to win their one-on-one matchups to gang tackle this ferocious back at the line.

Against a runner Wilfork called the best in the league, we don't love their chances.

Blount returns just in time


Two months after the Steelers tossed LeGarrette Blount onto the street, the hammer-dropping power back is on his way to the Super Bowl.

How does this happen? Only in New England.

Belichick has made a cottage industry of bringing back his own players and turning an opponent's trash into treasure.

Blount is the latest example. Months after letting the running back walk in free agency, the Patriots leaned on Blount to dig a playoff grave for the Colts for the second year in a row. His 148 yards and three touchdowns off a whopping 30 carries felt like déjà vu all over again after Blount ripped Indy for 166 yards and four scores last January.

The Steelers essentially set the table for Belichick by rarely using Blount behind Le'Veon Bell. Coming to New England before Week 12 with just 65 carries on the year, Blount has given the team a fresh pair of legs. As one of only three backs with 150-plus carries to average 5.0 or more yards per attempt last season, Blount has upped his 4.1 yards per carry with Pittsburgh to 4.7 in seven games with the Pats.

Blount is best between the tackles, used to wear down the defense as he was against the Colts. Not unlike Lynch, he's a load to bring down. When Blount finds his rhythm, he houses the power and wheels to crash through defenders for yards after contact. Seattle needs to do a better job than Indy did below to bottle him up in the red zone.

The caveat with Blount channels back to Belichick, who might wind up treating Shane Vereen, Jonas Gray or Brandon Bolden as his featured runner on Sunday. Assuming Blount gets the call, he will find Seattle to be a much stiffer test than the Colts.

Defensive end Michael Bennett has been a terror this season, ranking third in the NFL against the run at his position, per Pro Football Focus. Fellow linemen Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin have been effective against backs all season, along with Bobby Wagner, the sensational linebacker who returned from injury in Week 12 to ignite this front seven.

There's also Kam Chancellor to deal with, one of the hardest-hitting, run-stuffing safeties in all of football.

Blount won't walk through this defense. In fact, he'll need to produce the game of his life to even approach the carry count he enjoyed against the Colts.

Who's the better player?


It's almost not fair. This easily goes to Lynch.

Blount has been a nice pickup for a deep Patriots backfield, but Belichick is unpredictable. We might see Jonas Gray or Brandon Bolden carry the load.

While New England runs an offense that evolves and morphs weekly, Seattle doesn't hide the fact that Lynch is their centerpiece. They march him out there game after game and challenge teams to stop him.

Weirdness often unfolds in the Super Bowl, with unknowns emerging as heroes and goats, but Lynch is a strong bet to lead all players in touches and yards on Sunday.

New England has its work cut out.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast reacts to the Patriots' deflated footballs controversy and tells you whom to trust in Super Bowl XLIX. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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