Vikings searching for identity in backfield

The Vikings have started three different running backs this season because of injuries and Adrian Peterson’s off-the-field issues. With Jerick McKinnon dealing with a back injury, the rotation is in flux.

With starting running back Jerick McKinnon out during Sunday’s game because of a lower back injury there were a couple different options for the Minnesota Vikings with their running backs. They could have just started Matt Asiata – he was the original starter once Adrian Peterson was suspended – or they could have utilized Joe Banyard and Ben Tate in order to see what they were able to do.

They ultimately chose to ride Asiata for a majority of the game and used Banyard and Tate sparingly as backups. Asiata was on the field for a total of 36 offensive snaps, Tate saw seven offensive snaps, and Banyard saw five.

At the beginning of the game it seemed as though the Vikings were hoping to look at Banyard, who is a young back that has shown a lot of promise when he has gotten opportunities. He was the only back used during the second drive of the game, but things changed quickly as he was not seen during the second half. Instead, Tate was used to backup Asiata.

Head coach Mike Zimmer said that was not their intention going into the game, but instead it was just something that played out that way.

“It just kind of ended up working out that way,” Zimmer said. “We missed protection on the one, one of the backs missed a protection, so he didn’t get to play quite as much.”

Since Asiata continued to play throughout the game and Tate played throughout the second half, it seems as though Banyard was pulled from the game because he missed a protection during the second drive of the game, which ended in a punt.

Even though the Vikings’ starting running back was out, Zimmer still thought the rushing attack for the Vikings did a good job but noted that they could still use improvement.

“I thought Asiata ran hard, I thought Tate ran hard. I don’t remember the carries that Banyard had – he had two. I thought our offensive line blocked well for the most part. … I don’t know, we need to continue to work on getting the running game going better.”

As a team, the Vikings only rushed for 92 yards – Asiata led the way with 52. Minnesota has not had a 100-yard rusher since Week 7 against the Buffalo Bills, when McKinnon rushed for 103 yards. Even as a team they have struggled reaching the 100-yard mark during the weeks following the Buffalo game, and failed to reach 100 total rushing yards three out of their last five games.

Those are not good numbers for a team who was going to rely on a power running game coming into the season, and makes it intriguing to see what they will do to improve it moving forward.

“I don’t know yet,” Zimmer said. “We are still evaluating where (McKinnon) is at, but we’re just, we’re going to go with the guys who are playing well.”

Once McKinnon is healthy and ready to play again it is likely that the Vikings will have to move one of their current running backs to the game-day inactive list, as they currently have four of them on the active roster, and six if you count the fullbacks Jerome Felton and Zach Line.

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