Running game all but disappeared in 2nd half

The Vikings weren’t able to generate much offense against the Bears, but essentially abandoned the running game in the second half of a close game.

The Minnesota Vikings struggled in the running game last Sunday against the Chicago Bears; there is no question about it. It could have been that the cold weather, running back Jerick McKinnon’s sore back, the offense unable to get into a rhythm or the Bears defense drawing up well-timed zone blitzes contributing to the lack of production.

No matter what the reasoning for the lack of production was, the bottom line was that the Vikings simply did not get enough production running the ball. They had only one rush by a running back go for more than 10 yards – safety Andrew Sendejo had a 48-yard run on a fake punt – and that was a 23-yard run by McKinnon during the first drive of the game.

“I don’t think we ran the ball well enough,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “They were running some zone blitzes to stop the running game some. The one long run that Jerick had was a zone blitz that we blocked very well, and a couple others we missed a block here or there.”

Even if the Bears were running zone blitzes to stop the run, you would still expect the Vikings – who were averaging 119.3 rushing yards a game heading into last week – would be able to rush for more than 48 yards on offense.

McKinnon was the primary option at running back again for the Vikings, and he only had eight rushing attempts for 38 yards. McKinnon’s back – which had been giving him a little bit of trouble during the week leading up to the game and landed him on the injury report – could have been a reason for his lack of use, but Zimmer said that was not the case.

“No, it wasn’t so much (McKinnon’s back),” Zimmer said. “(The Bears) were making a conscious effort of run blitzing in the gaps. If you hit them right, you are going to stop some things, so when you do that it opens up some other areas and we tried to hit some other areas.”

Even if the Bears did have well-devised game plan to stop the Vikings’ running game, there shouldn’t be much offensive Norv Turner hasn’t seen in his four decades of coaching. But the Vikings weren’t able counteract the defense being played against them.

It also does not explain why the team all but abandoned the running game in the second half. They entered the third quarter only down by four points, but they ran the ball a total of four times in the second half of the game, and only one of the carries was to McKinnon – it was a gain of three yards in the third quarter.

The other runs in the second half were a 3-yard gain by Jerome Felton when the Vikings were backed up against their own goal line in the third, a 2-yard run by Matt Asiata in the fourth quarter and his only run of the game (he had a 7-yard run the next play, but it was nullified due to a penalty) and a run by Teddy Bridgewater on a second-and-3 for no gain in the fourth quarter.

Bridgewater has shown in the past that he has the ability to carry the team down the field for a single drive at the end of games without the running game, but he wasn’t able to carry his team for two quarters with little to no running support. If the Vikings expect to win more games going forward, they are going to have to continue to rely on the running game as a way to ease the burden of the young quarterback.

Mike Zimmer press conference, part 1

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