Running game will be a challenge for Vikings

The Vikings don’t want to abandon the run, but they know yards will be hard to find in abundance against the league’s top rushing defense.

It is always important to establish a ground game against any opponent. Sometimes it’s just not an easy task to accomplish. This weekend the Minnesota Vikings are going up against the best rush defense in the NFL, the Detroit Lions, allowing just 62.8 yards per games and just 3 yards per carry.

Last week the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rushed for 26 total yards, 1.9 yards per carry against the Lions. The Vikings have been struggling of late to run the ball at will, bringing to the forefront the question of how much they should keep running the ball against a stout Lions defense if they are not getting any production out of it.

Vikings tight end Rhett Ellison believes a team shouldn’t abandon the running game, no matter the kind of success they are having. He says abandoning it just plays into the defense’s hand.

“It’s going to be a fight,” Ellison said. “It’s going to be one of those games where you just got to fight for every yard, but like I said, once you’re one-dimensional you’re not in a good situation, and everyone knows that. Every defense in the NFL, their goal is to stop the run and make you one-dimensional so you can turn on the pass rush. You don’t ever want to give up on it, unless there are just two minutes left in the game and you got to go. But I don’t think you can give up on it, otherwise you’re just playing right into their hands.”

If the Vikings try to run the ball on a regular basis, even if they are not successful at doing so, they are keeping the defense honest. They are making sure the defensive line does not just pin their ears back and pressure the quarterback the entire game. It also helps open things up for the passing game.

“Trying to stuff it in there and open up the deep ball for our receivers, and trying to protect Teddy (Bridgewater) at the same time,” said running back Matt Asiata. “We just got to do a good job on it, and the last game they had a couple sacks on him, and we are trying to emphasize pass blocking this game and just come out with a win.”

Bridgewater was sacked eight times when the Vikings played the Lions in Week 6 earlier this season. That’s obviously not something that the Vikings want to have happen again. They have been working on pass protection all week in practice, and it is one of the big things the team is emphasizing this week.

“Protect Teddy,” said Asiata. “Have some efficient runs, make first downs, get down to the red zone, score touchdowns, beat them.

“It doesn’t really matter. Just protect him, just let him throw the ball and find open guys downfield, and just play football. That’s it.”

If the Vikings are able to run the ball on a regular basis, and even have moderate success, it could take the pressure off of Bridgewater and help keep him clean against the Lions’ pass rush.

Even if the Vikings cannot have success running the ball, there are still things they can do to help out their quarterback. They can bring in extra protection in the form of tight ends or fullbacks, and they can use short, quick passes to running backs out of the back field, or use screens to keep the defense off-balance.

The players could not say for sure if any of those things were going to be taking place this Sunday. They just have faith in what offensive coordinator Norv Turner will call, and they will just have to go out and execute it.

“Whatever it takes to win the ballgame,” Asiata said. “If the run game don’t work, we are going to pass – screens or whatever Norv is going to put up with the game plan, we got to execute it.”

Establishing the running game and keeping Bridgewater upright will not be the only things that need to happen if the Vikings hope to pull of the upset in Detroit this weekend, and Ellison knows that. As a team, the Vikings hurt themselves plenty last time these two teams met, and he knows they can’t do that again if they hope to win.

“I think it was mostly, just don’t shoot ourselves in the foot,” he said. “We have to protect the ball – we turned the ball over, I think, three times – anytime you lose the turnover battle you’re pretty much going to lose that game, so protect the ball, protect the quarterback and just don’t make mistakes, don’t shoot ourselves in the foot.”

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