Scouting the Vikings schedule: Running backs

The Vikings have their own issues at running back, but the teams they will face in 2015 got a wide variety of production from their main backs in 2014. We examine each of the featured running backs for the Vikings’ 2015 opponents.

Chicago Bears: Home and Away
Matt Forte
In the 2014 regular season no running back was on the field more than Forte was, as he played in 1,006 offensive snaps. It is rare to see a running back be an every-down back in today’s NFL, but Forte has shown the durability and versatility to be one. It was somewhat of a slow start to the season for Forte because he did not record his first rushing touchdown until Week 6 of the regular season. Even so, he was still able to have a productive season, recording 266 carries for 1,038 yards and six touchdowns. Throughout his career Forte has also been a big contributor in the Bears’ passing game and 2014 was no different – he recorded 102 receptions for 808 yards and four touchdowns. At the end of the season Pro Football Focus gave Forte a -0.6 rating, in large part because he struggled in pass protection.

Detroit Lions: Home and Away
Joique Bell
In a perfect world, the Lions would split the carries between Bell and Reggie Bush, but the 2014 regular season was not a perfect world with Bush hurt and missing five games and limited in multiple others. With Bush out, the majority of the workload went to Bell, who recorded 223 carries for 860 yards and seven touchdowns. He was also used in the Lions’ passing game, where he recorded 34 receptions for 322 yards and one touchdown. Bell, too, struggled with blocking and penalties from time to time. Next season, if Bush is able to remain healthy, expect Bell’s 624 offensive snaps to decrease some as more snaps will go Bush’s way.

Green Bay Packers: Home and Away
Eddie Lacy
Lacy had a slow start to his second season in the NFL, and there were questions going around on whether or not he would be able to duplicate his output from his rookie season. He was able to turn everything around in Week 5, though, and finished the regular season as one of the NFL’s top backs. He recorded 246 carries for 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns. Given the prolific passing game of the Packers, Lacy did make a contribution there, recording 42 receptions for 427 yards and four touchdowns. Those stats helped lead him to a 19.8 overall rating by PFF at the end of the regular season. That rating put him in position to be tied for the third-highest rated running back in the NFL. Lacy is still only 24 years old and should continue to have success for years to come.

Seattle Seahawks: Home
Marshawn Lynch
There was speculation that Lynch would begin to have a decline during the 2014 season, but that was not the case. During the course of the season, Lynch recorded 280 rushing attempts for 1,306 yards and 13 touchdowns. Beast Mode is primarily known for ability to run the ball, partially because he is not featured in the Seahawks passing game very often. But he recorded 37 receptions for 367 yards and four touchdowns. He played well in most aspects of his game, but would struggle with penalties from time to time, and at the end of the regular season was given a 20.5 rating by PFF. That rating made him the second-ranked running back in the NFL, behind Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburg Steelers, who received a 23.8 rating. Lynch is a free agent and should fetch a high price, but you can assume the Seahawks will try their best to re-sign him.

Arizona Cardinals: Away
Andre Ellington
The Cardinals did not have a very successful rushing attack in 2014, as they totaled 1,308 yards on the season between 13 different rushers. Ellington was the player that received the bulk of the carries out of the Cardinals backfield and recorded 201 rushing attempts for 660 yards and three touchdowns. He also made a small impact in the passing game as he recorded 46 receptions for 395 yards and two touchdowns. The production of the Cardinals’ rushing game likely took a hit from the lack of production from their quarterback position, as they were plagued with injuries there. At the end of the regular season Ellington was given -7.5 rating by PFF, which made him the No. 50 running back out of the 57 graded.

St. Louis Rams: Home
Tre Mason
Mason may not have been the running back on the field the majority of the time – that was Benjamin Cunningham – but Mason was still the Rams’ leading rusher at the end of the regular season. During the season he recorded 179 rushing attempts for 765 yards and four touchdowns. He also recorded 16 receptions for 148 yards and one touchdown in the passing game. 2014 was Mason’s rookie season after the Rams drafted him out of Auburn in the third round. He may not have had the most impressive stats during the 2014 season, but you also have to take into account that he did not play a game until Week 6 of the season. Mason was given a -3.8 rating by PFF at the end of the regular season, and at the age of 21 he should improve on that next season as he continues to gain more experience.

San Francisco 49ers: Away
Frank Gore
Gore has been a staple in the 49ers backfield since he entered the league in2005. There is a chance that could all change next season as Gore enters this offseason as a free agent. Even though Gore has seen his numbers slip a little bit from time to time, he was still able to have a good season running the ball in 2014. He recorded 255 rushing attempts for 1,106 yards and four touchdowns. He didn’t make much of an impact in the passing game as he recorded 11 receptions for 111 yards and one touchdown. PFF gave Gore a -0.8 rating at the end of the season, and at the age of 31 he could be on the decline.

Kansas City Chiefs: Home
Jamaal Charles
If you were to compare Charles’ 2014 season to his 2013 season it would likely be a disappointment. That is not saying that he had a poor 2014 season, but instead it just showed how good of a 2013 season he had, and how high expectations were set for him coming into this past year. Last year, Charles recorded 206 rushing attempts for 1,033 yards and nine touchdowns. He also continued to make an impact in the passing game as he recorded 40 receptions for 291 yards and five touchdowns.

Denver Broncos: Away
C.J. Anderson
Anderson didn’t start the season as the Broncos’ starting running back – Montee Ball was the starter Week 1 – but after Ball went down with an injury, Anderson took advantage of the opportunity put in front of him. It was not until Week 10 of the season that Anderson first received more than 20 offensive snaps in a single game. Even with the lack of playing time early in the season, he was still able to record 179 rushing attempts for 849 yards and eight touchdowns. In the passing game, Anderson recorded 34 receptions for 324 yards and two touchdowns. At 23 years old, PFF gave him a 19.8 overall rating, which put him tied as the third-best running back in the NFL.

San Diego Chargers: Home
Branden Oliver
Oliver was a rather unknown factor of the Chargers offense after he went undrafted in 2014, but he was still able to make an impact for their offense when he was thrust into the starting role. He recorded 160 rushing attempts for 582 yards and three touchdowns. In the passing game, he recorded 36 receptions for 271 yards and one touchdown. Oliver could see his role further increase next season because Ryan Matthews is a free agent and the fact that Matthews has struggled with injuries his entire career could cause the Chargers to be wary of re-signing him.

Oakland Raiders: Away
Darren McFadden
2014 was not a good season for McFadden, as he seemed to continually struggle in the running game. He only recorded 155 rushing attempts for 534 yards and two touchdowns. In the passing game, he caught 36 passes for 212 yards and no touchdowns. PFF gave McFadden a -8.3 rating, which made him the No. 53 running back out of 57. When he first entered the NFL in 2008 as first-round pick out of Arkansas there were high expectations put on him, as some experts were even comparing him to Adrian Peterson. He has never been able to live up to those expectations, and this offseason he could have the chance to get a new start somewhere else as a free agent.

New York Giants: Home
Andre Williams
The Giants split carries between Williams and Rashad Jennings throughout the season, with Williams having the slight edge. Williams recorded 217 rushes for 721 yards and seven touchdowns. He also had 18 receptions for 130 yards and no touchdowns in the passing game. 2014 was Williams’ rookie season, and for a majority of the games he was not the starter but still received most of the offensive snaps. Both the Giants’ running backs should be back next season, so you would expect the same type of numbers if not a little bit of improvement.

Atlanta Falcons: Away
Steven Jackson
Jackson just finished his 11th season in the NFL, his second with the Falcons. He had 190 rushing attempts for 707 yards and six touchdowns, while also recording 20 receptions for 148 yards and no touchdowns in the passing games. PFF gave Jackson a 9.5 overall rating, as he played well in every aspect of the game. This offseason, the Flacons’ No. 2 running back – Jacquizz Rodgers – is a free agent, so Jackson could see his role increase even more in 2015.

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