Vikings vs. Jets a battle of running games?

One of the best ways for the Vikings to keep their defense fresh is being able to run the ball themselves.

The New York Jets come into TCF Bank Stadium Sunday with the second-best rushing attack in the NFL. They are averaging 148.2 yards per game on 30.8 attempts per game and are coming off a game against the Miami Dolphins where, as a team, they ran for 227 yards and a touchdown.

That consistent effort in the running game can have the tendency to wear down opposing defenses and allow a team to control the clock. A lot of speculation has been put into the Vikings defense stopping the Jets ground game, but the offense – and specifically the Minnesota Vikings ground game – plays a part in stopping the Jets rushing attack, too.

“I think it’s going to be important to maintain drives,” fullback Jerome Felton said. “Whether that’s in the passing game or rushing game because, obviously, (the Jets) run the football a lot, so they’re going to be milking the clock, so it’s important for us not to go three-and-out and put our defense back on the field. We need to do really well on first down and a lot of the time that’s getting your running game going, so that will be important.”

In a physical game like this one is expected to be, giving the defense a rest is one of the most important things the offense can do to help out. If the offense is unable to sustain drives and leaving the defense out there for a majority of the game with few breaks they will be more susceptible to giving up a big play.

When the Jets have a weapon like Chris Johnson – who has the speed to take it to the house on any given play – the defense will want to be as fresh as possible to stop him. The Jets’ other running back, Chris Ivory, is a talented back but a much more physical runner than Johnson is, and he will be the one charged with wearing down the defense.

The Vikings know that this is likely to be a physical game and have been talking about that all week.

“It will be important for us to play physical and that’s one thing we’ve talked about this week,” Felton said. “It’s going to be a physical football game and we’re going to have to hold our end of the bargain, being able to run the ball.”

The Vikings’ rushing attack has been struggling of late, and with the Jets allowing only 85.2 yards a game, things might get worse before they get better. The Vikings offense has not had a player rush for over 100 yards since rookie running back Jerick McKinnon did it in Week 7 against the Buffalo Bills. McKinnon didn’t play last week and hasn’t practice yet this week because of a lower back injury.

They have also struggled to reach the 100-yard mark as a team on several occasions, having failed to do it three out of their last five games. Felton says that there is not just one reason for that, but multiple.

“It’s a lot of different things,” he said. “Obviously we’ve had some injuries to the running backs, to the offensive line, and honestly I don’t think we’ve ran it that much. So those things all play into it, but guys have stepped up and done a good job. And obviously we are going to want to be able to get our running game going, and hopefully we can do that.”

If the Vikings are able to jump out to an early lead and then establish their running game to control the clock, they might be able to neutralize one of the league’s best rushing attacks. If they are able to do that, they will force the Jets’ 32nd-ranked passing attack to beat them instead.

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