Although the NFL is known for its passing, the time-honored mantra is that teams have to be able to run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense. For all the things the Minnesota Vikings did well last season defensively, stopping the run wasn’t high on that list. From the looks of things in the layout of the 2016 schedule, if the Vikings are to repeat as NFC North champs, their run defense is going to get plenty of work.
In 2015, the Vikings finished 17th in run defense – only Detroit had a worse run defense in the division. The 2016 schedule is going to be dotted with teams that are counting heavily on their run game to win, so the challenge to the Vikings will come early and never fully let up.
The season starts off with a road game at Tennessee Sept. 11. The Titans had one of the worst rushing offenses in the league last year, but have taken great steps to change that around. Not only did the Titans trade for former Pro Bowl runner DeMarco Murray, they drafted Alabama’s Derrick Henry, widely regarded as the second-best running back in the draft, in the second round. What was once viewed as a glaring weakness now looks like a position of strength.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/vikings/story/1673012-rookies-need-to-walk-fine... The Vikings will play the Packers twice this year and much of the talk at OTAs over the last couple of weeks has surrounded the weight loss of running back Eddie Lacy. Lacy proved he could be a dominant in his first two seasons, but showed up overweight to training camp last year and earned the unflattering nickname Feast Mode. The reality is that, prior to the Vikings shutting down Lacy in Week 17, they had never done so in his career. He had never lost to Minnesota in his first five games. His lowest rushing total vs. the Vikings prior to Week 17 last year was his first meeting as a rookie in 2013 when he rushed 29 times for 94 yards and a touchdown. In the four games that followed, he rushed for 100 or more yards in each game and had a least one touchdown in every game. Say what you want about Aaron Rodgers, but it’s Lacy who has done most of the damage against the Vikings and is expected to bring the heat once again.
Week 3 sends the Vikings to Carolina, where the Panthers had the No. 2 rushing attack in the NFL last season. With Jonathan Stewart leading the way and QB Cam Newton being one of the most dangerous rushing quarterbacks in the league, the Vikings will face one of the stiffest run-defense challenges of the season early on.
In Week 5, Houston comes to U.S. Bank Stadium. For years, the Texans have had one of the top rushing attacks in the league, but fell to the middle of the pack last year when Arian Foster got injured. The team used free agency to bolster the run game, signing Lamar Miller away from Miami. There’s no doubt that Houston will be looking to lean heavily on the run once again this year and the Vikings will be going up against one of the better offensive lines the NFL has to offer.
Perhaps the best news for the Vikings is that they will get four games against Chicago and Detroit. The Bears will be playing their first season in almost a decade without Matt Forte (although Jeremy Langford looks legit) and Detroit had the league’s worst rushing attack last year, but things won’t get easier most weeks in the second half of the season.
The Arizona Cardinals come to Minnesota the Sunday before Thanksgiving and they will bring running back David Johnson with them. Johnson didn’t become a starter until December and ran for 92 yards on 19 carries against the Vikings, part of a three-week span in which he ran 70 times for 377 yards and three touchdowns. A true three-down back, he will be a load for the Vikings to handle.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/vikings/story/1669803-subscribe-today-member-be... On the Thursday after Thanksgiving, Dallas will come calling and, along with them, will come Ezekiel Elliott, the fourth pick in last month’s draft. With arguably the best offensive line in the league, not only does Dallas have the running back rated as the best pure talent at the position since Adrian Peterson was drafted by the Vikings in 2007, the Cowboys have veterans Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris. If teams can’t stop the run, Dallas will likely try to replicate its massive 2014 season, in which DeMarco Murray set a single-season rushing record for attempts in a season.
The following week, Jacksonville comes to town with a revamped running game. A year ago, the Jaguars were expecting former Viking Toby Gerhart to be a team leader. A year later, they will be looking to control games with the tandem of T.J. Yeldon and power runner Chris Ivory. With an offense loaded with weapons, being able to control the clock is going to be the objective of the 2016 Jaguars and they, too, will provide a stiff test for the Vikings defense.
When it comes to analyzing team potential, much is always made about having a passing offense that can light up the scoreboard, but when it comes right down to it, being able run the ball on offense and to stop the run on defense are about as important as any factors when for success in the NFL.
The Vikings have gone a long way in tightening up the NFL’s worst defense when Mike Zimmer took over two years ago. Stopping the run consistently hasn’t always been a shining light in the defense, but it will have to be in 2016 because the Vikings are going to be facing rushing offenses that may be just as strong as their own.