The 2016 Minnesota Vikings have had their ups and downs, but one unfortunate constant has been the lack of a running game that has been a hallmark of the Vikings for the last decade.
As a team, the Vikings are averaging just 2.7 yards a carry and have struggled in almost every game to get a running game generated. The loss of Adrian Peterson can’t be used as an excuse because, prior to his knee injury, Peterson was averaging just 1.6 yards a carry.
Running back Jerick McKinnon is putting pressure on himself to provide the big-play aspect of the Vikings running game that has been conspicuously absent this season, because many of the team’s overall woes can be traced back to the lack of a dominating run game.
“I’ve just got to find a way to produce,” McKinnon said. “I feel I can make a play at any given time. The offense has been struggling and I just want to find a way to make a big play for us.”
Historically speaking during the Peterson era, the Vikings running game hasn’t been one that consistently grounds and pounds for five, six or seven yards a carry on a consistent basis. What has made it deadly is that an opponent can bottle it up for 10 plays or so, but then a 40-yard run gets mixed in and the entire complexion of a game changes.
McKinnon did a good job of providing those splash plays when Peterson was suspended in 2014, but he has been frustrated that they haven’t been able to maintain that level of explosiveness this season.
“I’m hard on myself,” McKinnon said. “I’m always wanted to make plays and be someone who can change things for our offense. I think I’ve done a good job in pass pro(tection). I just haven’t been able to break one loose yet. That’s why I’m being hard on myself. I feel like I should break a long run every game. It’s going to come. It’s going to happen. It’s something that we need and I’m putting it on me to make those big plays.”
Until the Vikings can consistently give the threat of the big play, defenses are going to continue to stack the box and not feel obligated to back away from the line to protect the edge.
McKinnon is convinced that if he can sprinkle in long runs, it will open things up for the entire offense – both the run game and the pass game.
“We just have to find a way to get more big plays that flip the field or score points,” McKinnon said. “A lot changes when you can make big plays on a defense. They don’t crowd the line as much if you can make them pay for doing that. That’s why it’s been so frustrating for me. I’ve been close to popping a few long ones, but they just haven’t clicked yet. I know they will at some point, but it’s frustrating to be close and not get them.”
Part of McKinnon’s frustration has been that the defense has played well enough to keep the Vikings unbeaten. He feels the offense has been letting down the team as a whole by not consistently bringing its best, which is largely based on the running game.
Sam Bradford and the pass offense have been able to make plays, but the run game needs to do its part because the Vikings defense has given them plenty of opportunities to take advantage of short fields and put points on the board.
If that can happen, the Vikings could be a handful for any team to contend with.
“We need to help our defense out,” McKinnon said. “They’re playing great. We just have to do our part better. We can’t have three-and-outs. We can’t stall in the red zone. We can’t keep putting ourselves in bad down-and-distance situations. We have to put more points on the board.”
McKinnon believes that bringing the big play back to the running game could create a huge difference in how the offense operates and believes that the onus lies with him to get that job done.
“The more we can get defenses to adjust to account for big plays, the more things you open up,” McKinnon said. “I have an opportunity to make those plays that can force defenses to change what they want to do to stop us. We have a really good team here, but our offense needs to make more big plays, especially in the running game, and that falls on me.”null