Linemen Insist Running Efficiency is Near

The offensive linemen for the Vikings are tired of hearing about the running game, but they say it's just the little things that need to get corrected and all will be right with Minnesota's ground game. See what all three interior linemen had to say on Monday.

Being an offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings means getting the same questions week after week.

During training camp, the men up front were confronted with the inquiries about just how good this offensive line could be, and if the right side of the line was the best in the NFL. That tune has changed dramatically, with the line of questioning this last month probing what's wrong with the running game and how close are they from being what was expected.

"If I had the answer, I'd be up telling the coaches," all-pro guard Steve Hutchinson said succinctly.

But the questions continued. With a new offense being installed in Minnesota, could that be the culprit to the inconsistent running game?

"You can only say that to some point. We're not going to be in Week 15 and saying the same thing. It is new. The fact of the matter is there is a lot of new guys in the new system. I think we've made tremendous strides and we won the first two games right off the gate. It's just mistakes now," Hutchinson said.

"Collectively, we're shooting ourselves in the foot. It's not one group. It's not one player or one person. We're kind of spreading the wealth of misfires. This is a consummate team game, and we've got to get on the same page."

Center Matt Birk agreed that the time has past when the team could use the excuse that they are new to each other.

"I think the feeling-out process has come and gone. You've just got to execute better," Birk said. "You can't have one guy not getting it done, and it seems like that's what's happening to us right now. We just need to prepare better and go out there and compete and execute. That's what you've got to do."

The Vikings essentially gave up on their running game – feature back Chester Taylor had only 10 rushes for 23 yards on Sunday – when they fell behind and became ineffective on the ground early in the game (Taylor rushed six times for 6 yards in the first half).

Yet right guard Artis Hicks says it is only a matter of getting the little things right with the blocking and then the running game will get right.

"That's exactly what it is, putting your head on the outside of a guy to keep outside leverage on him so Chester can run outside and hit the hole, as opposed to putting your head down the middle of the guy and falling off late and him making a shoestring tackle," Hicks said. "It's just the small things that need to be corrected, but we'll get them worked out. There is still a lot of football left to be played. We'll get things rolling."

So far, the running game has been rolling backwards. Taylor's rushes have been diminishing every game in these first four contests. With 31 carries in the season opener, he led the league in attempts. Since then, he has carried the ball 24, 20 and 10 times in the last three games, respectively.

The yards have generally gone down as well, with 88 on the ground for Taylor in the opener, 113 yards in Week 2, then falling off to 74 against Chicago and 23 against Buffalo.

But Hutchinson doesn't blame the coaches for getting away from the running game.

"If I'm the coach and every time we're down we're losing a yard or only gaining one or losing three, I'd be calling pass plays too," he said.

The top reasons for the ineffective offense are penalties and the running game, which seem to go hand-in-hand. Penalties back up the offense and put them in down-and-distance situations that aren't conducive to running the ball.

Many of those penalties have been of the procedural variety, false starts and illegal shifts that end a play before it ever began.

"If you start out a drive and you go from first-and-10 to second-and-13, you're putting yourself behind the eight-ball," Hicks said. "Second down, say you pick up 5 yards – it's third-and-long still and defenses sit back, play Cover-2, send a blitz at you and make you throw the ball for a little 4-yard route and tackle, you're still short of the sticks. That's what great defenses do, and that's why you've got to stay out of second-and-long by converting 5 or 6 yards, whether it's in the pass or the run."

Said Hutchinson: "It makes it tough to convert, get the first down or score, so collectively as a unit everybody needs to hone in a little bit more. We can play with anybody. Our defense is giving us a great chance. We just need to put some points on the board to help them out."

So how do the Vikings fix those pre-snap mistakes?

"You just keep focusing on it – really fine focus. It just seems like when nothing's going right, which is kind of how's it's been for us offensively, it just feels like it's always an uphill battle," Birk said. "We just need to put together a drive, go out and score a touchdown – sometimes momentum or whatever you want to call it, it doesn't become so hard once you get over the hump."

Hutchinson and Hicks said that the running game is the last thing to come together for an offense. The symmetry required by all units involved makes timing an issue.

"That's probably the biggest thing that takes everybody being on the same page is running the ball – from the tight end to the offensive line to fullback to the tailback," Hutchinson said. "That timing, all the stars have got to be aligned for everybody to be on the same page. Probably right now, that's where we're lacking."

But, despite all the obvious frustration the offensive linemen and all involved with the running game are feeling, they do believe they are close to playing harmoniously and making the running game sing.

"I think we're close. The line between success and failure, the difference is very small," Birk said. "We're close. It's just execution – hat placement, steps, things like that. We need to clean that up and get those guys covered up."

Said Hicks: "We'll get on track, I promise you that because Coach Childress is going to make sure we get on track."

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