It’s starting to sound like a broken record with the Minnesota Vikings run game, which has sputtered all season – even before the team lost Adrian Peterson and three offensive tackles for the season, the latest being Jake Long with an Achilles injury.
The Vikings entered play Sunday with the worst rushing average in the league and it got even worse Sunday as the trio of Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon and Ronnie Hillman combined to run 19 times for just 31 yards in their 26-20 loss to Washington.
Although the Vikings offense sparked for three touchdowns in the second quarter, the inability to move the ball on the ground once again killed drives and got head coach Mike Zimmer scratching his head as to how to turn things around.
“I felt we fought even though we put ourselves in a hole,” Zimmer said. “We fought, but we didn’t execute enough to win. These third-and-1s obviously have been difficult for us.”
Zimmer was clearly frustrated during and after the game Sunday, as the same problems that have plagued the Vikings offense throughout their four-game losing streak.
The offense has shown flashes, but no enough to consistently hold up their end of the team and it has become a problem that seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy from one week to the next.
“Everybody’s frustrated right now,” Zimmer said. “I’d be disappointed if they weren’t frustrated. We did some decent things on offense today. We moved the ball. We had three straight scores, but we didn’t score any in the second half.”
Even when the Vikings had some positive momentum, the running game was a problem. The Vikings’ first touchdown came after picking up a first down on the Washington 1-yard line, but Asiata needed three rushes to score to cut the deficit to 14-7.
But, in the few opportunities they had to make an impact with the run game, it failed. In the game-tying drive in the second quarter, the Vikings had a second-and-1 that they wanted to covert on the ground to keep the clock moving in the final two minutes. The plan got changed when McKinnon was stuffed for a 1-yard loss, forcing the team to pass to move the ball.
On their first drive of the third quarter, Asiata was stuffed for no gain on a third-and-1, forcing a punt. On their next drive, they faced another third-and-1 situation and Asiata was pushed backward, ending another drive.
On both of those series, after the Vikings punted, Washington converted those into points with field goals.
“Obviously we felt like with those plays, we felt would get those third-and-1s,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “We have confidence in our guys up front. We have confidence in our backs. We’re going to keep calling it on third-and-1 and they’re going to be first downs. We’ve just got to trust in it and go out and execute it when those plays are called.”
In the last 22 minutes of the game – which began with the Vikings still holding a 20-17 lead, the Vikings ran just four times and gained one yard.
But Bradford said he doesn’t envision the Vikings abandoning the run because it has been their bread and butter on offense for years – a hard sell for those who have watched a revolving door on the offensive line and at running back with nobody stepping up and changing the script.
‘It’s been tough the last couple of weeks, but we’re going to stay committed to it,” Bradford said. “I know that we believe in the run game. I still believe we’re at our best when we’re balance and we’re able to keep people off-balance and mix in some play action. We’ve just got to work at it, figure out what we’ve done in the run game that has been successful and what hasn’t.”
Zimmer may not be as confident that the run game can turn around. The Vikings did enough to win Sunday, but dug an early hole they got themselves out of, only to go scoreless in the second half and give the ball back to the Redskins time and time again.
Something has to change and, if that means passing the ball 50 times a game, the Vikings may consider it.
“It was disappointing because we got back into the negative-yardage plays again today,” Zimmer said. “When that happens, then obviously the running game goes nowhere. The bottom line is we’re trying to win however we can. Sure, we’d like to run the ball better, but, if we have to throw it every down, we’ll throw it every down.”