First off, let me start out by saying that I get it. The NFL is now a passing league and running the ball really isn’t the thing to do anymore. Experts tell me that short passes equate to run plays, data “proves” that the answer to the Vikings’ offensive woes is NOT to run the ball run more, and analysts say “rushing isn’t as efficient as passing.” It’s science. How can you argue with that… Right?
While all of that may be true, I simply don’t care.
The Vikings need to establish the run, and to me there’s no debating the matter.
Yes, it’s true that running the ball has never been so unsexy or old-fashioned. It’s also true that certain game situations don’t call for the run. But it’s still a necessary part of an offense that allows teams to control the clock when needed and keep opposing defenses guessing. One simply cannot execute a properly balanced offensive scheme without taking the time to factor-in the benefits of the run.
There are certain game situations that call for an offense to control time of possession. Running allows a team to do that. There are also times during the game when an offense wants to lower the risk of turnovers. Running allows a team to do that. Furthermore, a sound rushing attack allows the defense to stay off the field and stay rested. Under former offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, the offense failed miserably in all of these areas.
At times DeFilippo came up with some creative ways to get the ball to his playmakers, but the offense was painfully unable to get consistent gains on the ground. In 13 games under JDF, the team gained 100+ rushing yards only three times. As a result, the Vikings currently rank 30th in the NFL in rushing, averaging 85.4 yards per game. Just take a look at the Vikings’ rushing stats through Week 14:
Latavius Murray: 114 attempts, 470 yards, 5 TD’s (4.1 YPC)
Dalvin Cook: 87 attempts, 367 yards (4.2 YPC)
Kirk Cousins: 37 attempts, 108 yards, 1 TD (2.9 YPC)
Mike Boone: 11 attempts, 47 yards (4.3 YPC)
Stefon Diggs: 9 attempts, 53 yards (5.9 YPC)
Roc Thomas: 8 attempts, 30 yards (3.8 YPC)
C.J. Ham: 5 attempts, 7 yards (1.4 YPC)
Adam Thielen: 3 attempts, 28 yards (9.3 YPC)
The Vikings average 4.1 yards per carry as a team, which is tied for 23rd in the league. In terms of total number of rushing attempts, Minnesota is 31st in the NFL. The Vikings have one more carry (274) than the Atlanta Falcons, who are dead last in total carries this season.
It’s easy to say that volume isn’t as important as proper usage, and it’s hard to argue that, but in order to get into a rhythm rushing the ball, it takes a certain amount of persistence, and dare I say commitment. That was another missing factor under DeFilippo.
Considering how good the defense has been over the past few years, the Vikings offense should philosophically be tasked with controlling the clock and not turning the ball over. Those areas are where the offense of yesteryear excelled.
The Vikings hope to get similar results from their interim offensive coordinator, Kevin Stefanski. Back in February, after the Vikings hired DeFilippo, the team blocked Stefanski from interviewing with Pat Shurmur and the New York Giants. Now, the 36 year-old will get the opportunity to showcase the potential that each head coach saw in him.
There’s no hiding the fact that Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer wants to run the ball more. It’s also no secret that Stefanski has never called plays before. With Zimmer stating on Tuesday that he wants to be more involved in the offense, perhaps a “moldable” rookie play-caller is just what the doctor ordered to revive the stagnant rushing attack.
As Matthew Coller of ESPN1500 detailed, there are a number of concepts in which Stefanski could use to improve the offense. I especially agree with his takes of rushing to the perimeter and having Dalvin Cook AND Latavius Murray on the field at the same time. Being creative is important in today’s NFL, and there’s a lot one can do with those two skill sets.
Establishing the run game is OBVIOUSLY easier said than done, especially with the Vikings sub-par offensive line. But in the next three games, running the ball will play a valuable role in risk management during the most important stretch of the team’s season.
We don’t know what we’ll see yet when the Vikings take the field on Sunday. But by taking into account his 13-year tenure with the team and seemingly solid rapport with the players as well as the coaches (especially coach Zimmer), I believe Stefanski is the perfect candidate to get the ball rolling.