There’s an old-school line of thinking that has been backed up over time saying that a sure sign of success can be traced to running the ball effectively on offense and consistently stopping the run on defense.
Even on teams that throw the ball much more often than the Minnesota Vikings, mixing in the run (and the threat of the run by being effective with it) needs to be part of a thriving offense.
The same is true defensively. Stopping the run, especially on first down, creates advantageous down-and-distance situations for a defense and opens up a lot more of the defensive playbook to disguise their looks and get aggressive with blitz packages.
When it has come to the Vikings run defense, from the first team to the third- and fourth-stringers in the fourth quarter, the Vikings have allowed 277 yards on 59 carries (a 4.7-yard average) in their first two preseason games.
They have made a critical fourth-down stop in each of the first two games, which could dissuade others from trying the same when things get real next month. But, at the same time, they’ve allowed too many third-and-short situations and head coach Mike Zimmer wants to see that aspect of the run defense change – you don’t win allowing 43 percent conversions on third down.
Against Seattle Thursday night, Zimmer’s run defense was a little more consistent, but he isn’t fully satisfied.
“With the first group, it wasn’t too bad,” Zimmer said. “They had one ball the bounced outside of Everson (Griffen), but actually we played pretty good and that just got grabbed a little bit. There was another 6-yard run I think, but, for the most part, it wasn’t bad.”
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The run offense is another story. Fully keeping in mind that Adrian Peterson is watching from the sideline, the Vikings rush offense has been anemic at best.
Through two games, the longest of the 51 rushes has been 12 yards – and in November, even hard-core fans will be hard-pressed to identify the owner of that team-best run, Jhurell Pressley – a nightmare scenario for a “Wheel of Fortune” finals contestant.
Coming off of play-by-play coaching breakdown, Zimmer saw some good things, some bad things and some expected things. The offensive line was sound in pass protection, but not creating the running lanes that were needed for non-Peterson backs to make plays.
“I think we did some really good things in the running game, but we missed on some things,” Zimmer said. “There was one play we had a nice hole and the tight end got knocked into the tackle, so it gets cut off. There were two times that the back missed the cut. There were one or two times, we blocked it the wrong way, so it’s a work in progress, but there really is a lot of good things going on.”
The sans-Peterson front-line offense has yet to produce anything resembling passable for the regular season. As a team, the Vikings are averaging 2.5 yards a carry. The backup tandem of Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata have combined to carry 19 times for 40 yards.
But Zimmer is markedly more positive about where the running game will be, not necessarily where it is.
“Obviously, we’ve got to do better than two yards a carry, but it’s opening up some things in the passing game as well,” Zimmer said.
As things currently sit, the Vikings aren’t anywhere near where they expect to be at both running the ball offensively and stopping it defensively. But, once Peterson becomes part of the game plan, things are likely to change – which will impact both sides of the ball.