The Vikings are 15-31 in his career when Michael Bennett carries the ball five times or more. In 2003-04, the team was 4-12 in games in which he had 5 or more carries and 13-3 when he wasn't in the game plan. His minus-1 yard rushing Sunday added to that total, but the frustration in the running game runs much deeper than just Bennett.
The stunned silence at the Metrodome turned to consistent booing Sunday when the Vikings lost their season opener to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But in this installment of "Upon Further Review," the woes of the Vikings' running game were such that plenty of blame could be spread around.
On one of the few carries of the quarter, the Vikings have the ball first-and-10 at their own 49. Shortly before the snap, the entire Buccaneers defensive front slides over one spot, creating new gaps. The linemen don't react in time and, as they shuffle to pick up their assignments, LB Shelton Quarles shoots an empty gap and drops Moe Williams for a 1-yard loss. Forced into a second-and-long, the Vikings are forced into a passing situation. Daunte Culpepper is chased down by Simeon Rice, who is chipped by a tight end to slow him down and Culpepper fumbles.
On first down in the opening seconds of the quarter, the Vikings try to establish Michael Bennett's presence. His first carry is to go up the middle, but both Cory Withrow and Marcus Johnson end up on the ground, appearing to try to tackle Chris Hovan and Booger McFarland. Bennett tries to step around the bodies in front of him and fights to gain three yards.
On a first-and-10 from the Vikings 29-yard line, Bennett takes a carry intended to go between the guard and tackle. Hovan gets position on Withrow and takes away the running lane. The play is forced out wide and Simeon Rice corrals Bennett for a 2-yard loss. Forced into second-and-long, one short completion and an incompletion by Culpepper kills the drive in its tracks.
With four minutes to play in the half on a second-and-6, Bennett gets a handoff and is given a hole to run through. However, he never puts a move right or left after getting through the line and is hit head on by safety Jermaine Phillips and stonewalled for no additional yardage. It sets up a third-and-4 and, when Culpepper misfires to Nate Burleson, the drive was over.
On the first play of the second half, the Vikings again try to establish the run. The call is for Bennett to go up the middle. The offensive line stands up the Bucs, but doesn't open a hole. Instead of trying to bounce the play outside or string the play laterally, Bennett lowers his head and runs into the backs of his offensive linemen – gaining 1 yard. The Vikings are forced to pass from there and go three-and-out.
On a second-and-7, Williams is brought back in and is given a hole to go through. However, linebacker Shelton Quarles shoots the gap perfectly and meets Williams in the hole, resulting in a 1-yard gain. Culpepper converts the third down and the team will take eight more snaps – passing on each on because of the lost confidence in the running game. They will get a field goal to cut the deficit to 17-10.
Frustrated with trying to outmuscle the Bucs with straight-ahead line blocking, the Vikings try a sweep in which the entire offensive line pulls to the right, hoping to spring Williams on a 1st-and-10 play to start the quarter on the Vikings 16. The Bucs fill the gaps and Williams finds nowhere to run, falling forward for 3 yards. The Vikings come up a yard short on a second-down pass and, when Culpepper throws an incompletion on the following down, the drive ends three-and-out.
With 12 minutes to play, the Vikings are behind by three points and trying to put together the one sustained drive that has eluded them. Determined to continue to run, Bennett gets a handoff, starts left and finds a cutback lane between the guard and tackle. He hits the hole, but is met by Dexter Jackson who stops him for a 1-yard gain.
After converting a first down to keep the same drive alive, the Vikings run short of time on the play clock and have to call a time out. Their decision with time on the sideline is to try the run again. This time they bring in two tight ends and essentially sell the fact that they're going to try to steamroll the ball college style. With all their personnel committed to the run, if everyone did his job, the team would find success. Instead, Withrow got blown up by Hovan, who tackled Bennett the second he got the ball for a 6-yard loss. The Vikings offense would take six more snaps after that – completely abandoning the run and eventually kicking a field goal to cut the deficit to 17-13.
With the Vikings on their own 44-yard line, with the clock ticking at 3:30, the Vikings try to catch the Bucs napping by calling a draw play out of the shotgun formation. Williams makes it through the line, but Quarles runs him down to limit the gain to just 3 yards and, when he is hit, he fumbles.
The suspects Upon Further Review are numerous. Withrow, called the best backup center in the NFL, showed that he's not among the best starting centers. Johnson was beaten down so badly he was replaced by Adam Goldberg in the second half. Bennett didn't show any speed or elusiveness and often looked too willing to give up on trying to fight for extra yardage and Williams proved that, while valuable to the team, he doesn't have the speed to make too many linebackers and safeties miss in the running game.
If the Vikings intend to be a playoff team, both the offensive line and the running backs need to play with better execution. If Culpepper is forced to pass on most downs because the Vikings can generate nothing on the ground, it could be a long season for No. 11. Heading into Sunday's game with the Bengals, there's little reason for them to respect the Vikings running game, because they've reviewed the same game film and had to come away unimpressed with what they saw and salivating to make the same players repeat the same problems in Week 2.