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Minnesota Vikings see ‘tiny, tiny, tiny baby steps’ of progress in run game

The Minnesota Vikings have struggled in the running game, but Mike Zimmer and some players see signs of progress.

While the Minnesota Vikings have a lot to like on defense, one of the staples of what Mike Zimmer wants to see from his team overall is having a strong running game to complement his defense.

To date, that hasn’t happened.

The Vikings are averaging only 1.33 yards on first-and-10 rushing plays, 31st in the NFL. It’s a troubling statistic, but Zimmer believes the Vikings are getting better in the running game, even if the statistics don’t show it yet.

“I do see signs of it, but it has to show up,” he said.

Guard Alex Boone said their Vikings’ double-teaming blocks need improvement.

“Double teams, I think, can be better at times. But for the most part we’ve just got to go out and be who we are and stop shooting ourselves in the foot and doing stupid (stuff) and just go out and run the ball. Stop thinking and more doing,” Boone said.


Despite being 3-0, the Vikings are averaging only 2.1 yards per carry. Adrian Peterson was averaging 1.6 yards per carry before he was hurt in Week 2. Jerick McKinnon is averaging 2.8 yards and Matt Asiata.

Last week, the Vikings averaged 2.4 yards on 24 carries, but Zimmer sees things on film that aren’t showing up in the statistics.

“Last week I thought there was a lot of times we did a lot of good things, got on the right guys, had some good double teams, had some good combination blocks,” he said. “… I know the run doesn’t look that good yet, but I’m starting to see some good signs.”

The Vikings have tried to run the ball mostly between the tackles. Of their 74 rushing attempts, 20 of them have been up the middle and another 22 of them have been over left guard and right guard, according to NFL statistics. They have averaged 0.56 yards over left guard, 2.6 yards over center and 3.27 yards over right guard.

They haven’t run often to the edges and have had mixed success when trying. In three attempts around left end, they have averaged 4.67 yards, but they are averaging negative yards in their runs around right end.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner believes McKinnon is most comfortable running between the tackles.

“It’s interesting because he has had his biggest plays between the tackles, even two years ago when he was playing, but he’s a complete runner,” Turner said. “He can run on the edges, as we tried to do last week. We got some plays on the edge, and he is, to me, a good runner between the tackles. And I think he and - as I said last week - he and Matt give us a good complement.”

To complicate matters this week, the Vikings are facing the NFL’s fifth-ranked rushing defense and second-ranked when it comes to average per carry.

“We’re closer, but we’re just not quite getting there yet,” Zimmer 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.”


Despite changes in the offensive line with Boone out in the second half Sunday and left tackle Matt Kalil likely done for the season, Boone doesn’t believe communication should be an excuse.

“You really can’t blame anything on communication. It just really comes down to us as an offensive line playing better. We took tiny, tiny, tiny baby steps last week and there were some things we did well, some things we didn’t. This week we’ve got to put it all together,” Boone said.

“… It’s football and you’ve got to go out and hit them in the mouth.”

Quarterback Sam Bradford, acquired a week before the regular-season opener in a trade with Philadelphia, believes his increased comfort with the offense should help the running game.

“I think it’ll help a lot. I said last week that I think when we’re balanced we’re at our best. When the run game is rolling our play-action is better. It just makes everything kind of go,” Bradford said. “I think if we can find something to kind of spark the run game and get it going, I think it can only help us. I’m sure as I get more comfortable with the pass game, but not only that, just the run game in general. I’d imagine the coaches might start giving me some more checks, more on my plate to try and help things.”

Zimmer thinks McKinnon is “thick” enough to run between the tackles, but the Giants have a stout run defense no matter where teams have tried to attack their defensive line in the running game this year. Opponents have experienced the least success running up the middle, where the Giants have allowed only a 1.6-yard average on 10 attempts.


The Vikings, and McKinnon specifically, will need some patience, when trying to run against New York on Monday night.

“I think he does a good job of having patience, and sometimes he hesitates,” Turner said. “We’ve seen him (hesitate), even on the long run he had a year ago against the Giants in the fourth quarter. It’s almost like he came to a stop, saw a hole and hit it, and he’s fast enough where he can do that.”

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