The Minnesota Vikings are one of five teams to start the 2016 regular season 3-0, but they know there is still plenty of room for improvement.
One of the biggest things they still need to work on is establishing a running game, one of the things head coach Mike Zimmer has been saying he wants to do since the beginning of the season. He wants to be able to win games by controlling the clock with their ground attack and then dominating their opponent with an overwhelming defense.
They have the second part of that strategy down, as the Vikings have one of the best defenses in the NFL this season, but they are still trying to figure out the running game. They have the bottom-ranked rushing attack so far this season, averaging just 51 yards a game.
Zimmer believes his team is close to figuring things out on the ground, but he also knows things won’t be getting any easier for them this week against the New York Giants, who have the fifth-ranked rushing defense.
“We’re closer, but we’re just not quite getting there yet,” he said. “This is a tough team to run the ball against. They haven’t given up a lot of yards running, but we’re going to have to hard-headed and stick with it.”
A lot of their struggles have come from an offensive lineman, or lead blocker missing a guy here or there, which causes the play to be stopped for little or no gain. The running backs have also missed a couple holes that could have resulted in big gains. There always seem to be one or two things going wrong when they run the ball and it has resulted in a lot of struggles.
“We got out to the safety a couple of times last week, but he got downhill so fast that it ended up being a 3- or 4-yard gain as opposed to a bigger play,” Zimmer explained. “I think some of the play actions will help open things up, you know, if these safeties keep jumping things. Some of that will help. We made a couple of wrong calls, there’s a number of things.
One thing that will help out the running game is the continued progression of quarterback Sam Bradford in the Vikings offense. As he gets more comfortable in the offense, the passing game should improve.
That success pushing the ball downfield will cause the safeties and linebackers to move back a bit, opening things up underneath for the running game.
Bradford will also be able to take more control at the line of scrimmage, pre-snap, as he continues to get more comfortable. That will allow him to switch out of running plays he feels won’t be good against a certain look they’re getting and then into running plays he feels will give them the advantage.
“I think that’s one of those things that hopefully the coaches, the more they see me the more comfortable they are with me, the more they’ll give me and they’ll allow me to do those things at the line of scrimmage,” Bradford began.
“I definitely think it can help. As far as how much, I don’t know. We’d have to see. I think getting into the right plays is half the battle and then we have to go execute them.”
It may be down the road a ways before Bradford gets comfortable to switch in and out of plays whenever he wants to, though. The coaches need to be able to trust him enough to do that and he even admitted that he has enough on his plate right now and isn’t really worried about calling his own plays.
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At the same time, he knows it is going to be important that they get the running game going if they hope to have any long-term success this season.
“We haven’t been able to get it going like we expected to,” Bradford said. “It’s one of those things that we really need to get going. Like I said, I feel like when we’re balanced as an offense is when we’re at our best. I thought we did run the ball pretty well in the second half against Carolina and kept them off balance a little bit. We know it’s something that’s important and something that we need to get going.”