Running Game Faltering

Vikings coach Dennis Green didn't have too many encouraging words about the Vikings' running game to this point. Neither do the numbers.

The Vikings have to be missing Robert Smith more than most people think. It's this simple: The running game just isn't there. Worse yet, to hear Vikings coach Dennis Green tell it, it might not be very good all year.

"We might not be a good running team, but that doesn't mean we won't make the playoffs," Green said Monday. "You do whatever it takes to win."

Through four games, the Vikings' leading rusher is Michael Bennett, who has been the featured back — and we used the term "featured" lightly. Bennett has only 168 yards on 48 carries. The second number is almost as troubling as the first. Fewer than 50 carries through four games for the featured back means 12.5 carries per game, which is hardly enough to get a rookie used to running in the NFL and could also put his offensive linemen at a disadvantage against more aggressive defensive linemen.

"The worst thing we can do is over-analyze why we lost to a playoff team in New Orleans," Green said. Maybe so, but the running game's lack of production isn't just a one-week problem. In fact, the running game doesn't show many signs of getting better, even if the upcoming opposition's defense isn't as strong as Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and even Chicago in the middle of the defensive line.

Through four games last year, Robert Smith had 406 yards on his way to the team's single-season rushing record. This year, Bennett has less than half that, but he also has only 48 carries, compared to Smith's 77 at this point last year.

Whether it is Smith's absence or a less experienced offensive line, the fact is, the running game isn't good — and Green doesn't seem convinced that it will be better in the near future.

* Green said he was pleased with Eric Kelly's performance as a starting cornerback, but he wished he had both Kelly and Robert Tate.
* Cris Carter moved into fifth place in NFL history with 13,165 receiving yards.
* Daunte Culpepper became the eighth quarterback in team history to have more than 5,000 yards passing and also moved into eighth place in team history with 38 passing touchdowns.
* Jake Reed moved into fifth place in team history with 394 receptions.
* Gary Anderson moved into third place with 165 PATs for the Vikings.

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