In our final Unsung Hero article of the season, we focus on Minnesota Vikings backup running back Alexander Mattison. The sophomore back doesn’t get nearly enough attention in Minnesota’s offense. There are a lot of mouths to feed, Dalvin Cook‘s foremost among them. The unfortunate result is that Mattison doesn’t get much love. Against the hapless Lions, he not only got the start, Mattison also played a tremendous game.
Minnesota Vikings Backup RB Alexander Mattison
Per Pro Football Reference, Mattison played 62% of Minnesota’s offensive snaps, easily his highest percentage for the season. He didn’t disappoint. Mattison turned 21 carries into 95 yards and a touchdown. His three targets in the passing game resulted in three catches for fifty yards and a TD:
🎶 Alexander Mattison… His name is Alexander Mattison… And there's a million runs he hasn't done. But just you waitttt 🎶
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 3, 2021
Raw stats almost always need contextual discussion to really bring out their significance. Take a look at the above video. Minnesota faced a critical 4th & 2. Rather than slam his running back into a brick wall made up of burly defensive tackles, Gary Kubiak wisely called a pass play, one that was designed to hit Mattison in space.
The Vikings are in 22 personnel (2 RBs, 2 TEs), so it certainly looks like it will be a run. Instead, Cousins hits Mattison off of play-action. Mattison does the rest, outracing one defender and juking another as Tyler Conklin takes care of the other. Up until this point, Cousins struggled. He began the game 2/7 for 20 yards. He finished 28/40 for 405 yards and three passing touchdowns (one rushing). Kubiak’s decision to keep it simple for Cousins helped spark a really nice game for Minnesota’s QB.
Indeed, Cousins is a better quarterback when he has an elite running back alongside him. Mattison is capable of stepping in and performing at a rock-solid level, so Minnesota doesn’t need to change their offensive approach. Mattison was PFF’s highest-rated Viking from the game with an elite 90.1 score.
When he was chosen in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft, many believed that the Vikings reached. Two seasons in the NFL reveal that Minnesota made the right decision.
Alexander Mattison has had some forgettable moments this year. Missing that gaping hole in the Seattle game was devastating, especially since we finished one game out of the final playoff spot. The Atlanta game, moreover, was far from inspiring. These issues aside, the fact remains that Mattison is an above-average NFL back. Moving forward, the Vikings need to incorporate Mattison early and often. Doing so not only keeps Cook fresh, it also helps keep Cousins on the straight and narrow.
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