Since the Minnesota Vikings returned from their bye week, the center of discussion has been around continuing to build on the momentum that the Vikings started creating over the first five weeks of the regular season.
Given the injuries that the Vikings have sustained over the first month-plus of the season, it’s amazing that they have been able to beat the level of competition they have. But if they’re going to remain an elite team, one aspect of their game is definitely going to have to change – their run offense.
The Vikings are averaging just 70.6 yards rushing a game. That is the worst in the NFL. Only four other teams are averaging less than 88 yards per game – a relatively huge disparity.
The Vikings are also at the bottom of the league in average per rushing attempt at 2.5 yards a carry. The Rams are the second-worst at 3.1 yards a carry – even a wider disparity.
At first, the problem was blamed on Adrian Peterson, who was facing eight or nine players in the box dedicated to stopping him. On 31 carries, Peterson gained just 50 yards before getting injured.
However, even after Peterson was gone, the Vikings running game has still struggled at a high level. Jerick McKinnon has averaged just 3.1 yards a carry on his 57 attempts and Matt Asiata is even lower at 2.9 yards a carry on 36 rushes. As things currently stand, the best rushing average of any player on the Vikings team is Shaun Hill, who averaged 4 yards a carry on two scrambles.
“Yeah, it’s still a work in progress. We’ve still got to get better there,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “… Our biggest thing right now is to eliminate the negative-yardage runs. If we can do that, then I think the running game will be better, but we’ve had some second-and-14s or it’s third-and-9 because we get a 3-yard loss on second down or whatever it is. Those are situations we’re trying to eliminate.”
The NFL is a league of replication and duplication. The Vikings haven’t allowed more than 16 points in any game this year, thanks to an oppressive defense that is playing at the top of its game. But if Minnesota is going to keep themselves at the top of the league as one of the dominant teams, something is going to have to change. Their inability to remain balanced on offense and play the clock game that is so vital to strong defensive teams will eventually catch up to them.
History has told us that dominant defensive teams can win with offenses that merely get the job done – Baltimore and Tampa Bay being two examples and, to a slightly lesser extent, Denver last year. A lot more defensively dominant teams have fallen by the wayside when they can control the clock on offense and keep their defense fresh.
Of all the factors that have stacked against the Vikings over the last month and a half, they have found ways to overcome them. They have done so against pretty formidable odds. But until the Vikings can balance out their offense with a legitimate running attack, it’s only going to be a matter of time before opponents can exploit that weakness to their advantage.
There aren’t many things to complain about with the 2016 Vikings, but if the goals are going to keep getting loftier, there are some areas of legitimate concern – and the lack of a running game is at the top of that list.