Sunday slant: No rush to run the ball

The Vikings have had one of their worst years in the last decade running the ball. Surely Adrian Peterson’s absence has contributed, but the stats show just how much of a struggle it’s been with a lack of rushes, lack of explosive rushes and lack of yards.

When Norv Turner came to Minnesota less than one year ago, he said this wasn’t going to be his offense, it was going to be the Minnesota Vikings offense. It hasn’t looked like the Vikings’ running game of recent vintage.

Turner, the 30-year veteran of the National Football League coaching fraternity, wanted to establish a system that focused on Adrian Peterson as the lynchpin to success. That lasted one week.

Peterson was casted into the NFL Neverland by Commissioner Roger Goodell in the worst case of timing an NFL player has seen for a misstep off the field. Peterson did the crime – if it would have even been classified as that in his home state of Texas – and Goodell had him pay penance for his “sin,” and it sure looks like Goodell is making Peterson pay for the commissioner’s admitted mistakes in the Ray Rice case.

Peterson played only one game in 2014, and since then his actions and the commissioner’s reaction forced Turner and the Vikings to call an audible on their running game.

The results have been stark. The Vikings are still trying to run the football, although clearly not as much they have in the past, despite having a rookie quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, whose performance has been solid but clearly would benefit from the additional long-distance threat that Peterson would bring in the running game.

For one game, there was Peterson, then Matt Asiata as the starter for four games before rookie Jerick McKinnon established himself. But when McKinnon hurt his lower back it was back to Asiata.

Since Week 1 without Peterson …

“(The offense) has changed a lot. Obviously when you have the best running back in the world and then all the sudden you don’t have him, there’s going to be some adjustments,” fullback Jerome Felton said. “Obviously Jerick started having a lot of success and he gets hurts. It’s been a lot different. … I think we’ve gained some experience with Teddy playing and having to carry the offense sometimes and I think that will be good for his future and the organization moving forward.”

Essentially, the Vikings have tried to operate without much of a running game, and certainly without the explosiveness they have had in the past. Last year, they had 24 rushes of 15 yards or more; 15 of them were by Peterson.

Of the 17 times the Vikings have had a run go for 15 yards or more this year, only seven of them have come from running backs and Peterson accounted for two of those in his first game alone.

Jerick McKinnon had runs of 55, 29, 28 and 23 yards before he was lost for the season. Peterson had runs of 17 and 16 yards in his one game. And Joe Banyard had a run of 16 yards last week against the Miami Dolphins.

Cordarrelle Patterson’s season-opening run of 67 yards remains the longest rush by a Vikings player this year, and he and McKinnon have the only two rushes of more than 50 yards.

Safety Andrew Sendejo had a run of 48 yards on a fake punt, receiver Jarius Wright has three rushes of 20 yards or more, Felton has a 21-yard run, and Teddy Bridgewater has two scrambles that went for 16 yards each.

Explosive or not, the Vikings have epitomized the concept of shared carries. With 21 carries in the season opener, Peterson is still ranked third among running backs for number of carries. Asiata leads the team with 145, followed by McKinnon at 113 and then Peterson.

But McKinnon still leads the Vikings with 538 yards, despite the fact that he was never expected to be much more than a complementary back for Peterson with his anticipated strength being a third-down back with shiftiness. He turned into a pleasant surprise before turning into an injury casualty, apparently the victim of a weight-room injury.

“I think we’ve been through some adversity this year and we’ve overcome,” Banyard said. “It just kind of tests us as a team and we’ve come together even more later in the season than before.”

But the stats show that – under Turner and without Peterson – the Vikings have gotten away from the run game more than they have in the last two decades. With one game to go, they have only 380 attempts.

In 2008, the Vikings ran the ball 519 times. Since Peterson arrived in the 2007, they have never rushed fewer than 440 times. They will this year, and their production will also be one of lowest.

When Brad Childress arrived in 2006, he cited the quantity of the run over the quality as a key winning stat, but that doesn’t take into account the fact that many teams run the ball more often when they have a lead in the fourth quarter to help keep the game clock moving.

On an individual basis, Asiata is averaging only 3.3 yards, so while he leads the team in attempts, he has only 479 yards rushing. He might not catch McKinnon’s 538 yards.

As a team, the Vikings have 1,683 yards rushing and appear destined to finish with the lowest total in the last decade of Vikings football – in 2005, Mike Tice’s final year at the helm, the Vikings had 1,467 yards rushing.

Confusingly, the Vikings haven’t used Felton much, despite him still being valued by his NFL peers as a Pro Bowl alternate. Felton figures the lack of Peterson has limited the fullback’s usage, but he is still lead blocking at a high level, as the film and he can attest.

“As a fullback, you just block the guy as good as you can and everything else just works out,” Felton said. “Jerick, he was really stepping up and he was averaging over 5 yards a carry. We’ve had a lot of success when we have ran out of two-backs,” Felton said. “I’ve been satisfied with my performance. I think had things played out, there are some bright spots that you’re going to be able to take out of the season. Obviously Teddy being the biggest one.”

The switching of backs hasn’t helped, and neither have the injuries on the offensive line. But the Vikings also went through a stretch where they seemed to shy away from the run in favor of developing Bridgewater.

In the long run, that may prove to be a building block for the future. In the short term, however, they have struggled to run the ball, something that will have to change for future success.

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