Ground Game Will Be Vital to a Vikings Victory in Philly

Do the Vikings Really Have an Expendable Running Back?
Alexander Mattison and Dalvin Cook

The Minnesota Vikings roll into Philadelphia on Monday night on the back of a big win over the Green Bay Packers. On paper, the Vikings opening pair of games looked extremely difficult. If they can come out with another victory over the Eagles, it will be a huge statement. To do it on Monday Night Football with the world watching would put the rest of the league on notice.

What do the Vikings need to do to win this game? You can expect plenty more Justin Jefferson, but the critical area will be the run game on both sides of the ball. The ground game will be vital to a Vikings victory in Philly.

The Detroit Lions ran all over the Eagles defense in Week 1. D’Andre Swift shredded them for 144 rushing yards off of just 15 carries. That is a staggering 9.6 yards per carry. He also scored one touchdown. He was backed up by Jamaal Williams, who tallied 28 yards from 11 carries, including two touchdown scores down by the goal line.

Even Jared Goff got in on the act rushing for nine yards off of two carries. The Eagles defense was plagued by missed tackles that led to big plays. Something they will assuredly be looking to address heading into Week 2. You can’t afford to miss tackles on Dalvin Cook.

Despite the new look offense that is expected to be more pass-happy, Cook had a solid outing in Week 1, rushing for 90 yards from 20 carries at an average of 4.5 yards per carry. He added a further 18 yards on three receptions. That is the workload I was hoping for going into the season. Alexander Mattison had 36 yards from eight carries, also at 4.5 yards per carry. With two quality running backs on the roster, the Vikings should be planning to exploit the Eagles perceived weakness. The Vikings ground game is still a vital part of their offense.

The Vikings 2021 Offense by the Numbers: After Week 1
Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

However, that’s not to say there will be a significant change in the offensive game plan. When you have someone as talented as Jefferson, you continue to feed him as much of the ball as possible. The 20 carries mark is right where you want it for Cook. If the Vikings do have big success on the ground, they could increase the volume of work for Mattison, who makes a great foil for Cook as he is an entirely different style of runner. Cook’s elegance on the edge, combined with Mattison’s power through the middle, makes for an excellent combination. Besides, the Lions ran the ball 28 times against the Eagles, the exact same amount of running plays the Vikings had against the Packers.

Cook might not have had the most noteworthy of games against the Packers, but the fact he still totaled over 100 yards from scrimmage speaks volumes about the level of talent he possesses. One play, in particular, showcased everything that makes him an elite running back. 

On the other side of the ball, the running game is the Eagles strength. All four of their Week 1 touchdowns came on running players, with a different scorer each time. That’s not to say they aren’t also dangerous figures in the passing game. Jalen Hurts is an elusive quarterback who can make plays happen when all seems lost. He now has a serious weapon at his disposal in the form of AJ Brown. However, the running game is the foundation of this Eagles offense. Miles Sanders will lead the way, backed up by Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott. The other issue the Vikings defense will have to find an answer for is Hurts. Whether it was designed runs or scrambles, he tallied 90 rushing yards against the Lions — only six shy of the total managed by Sanders.

What the Vikings Do Poorly, the Eagles Do Wonderfully
Jan 16, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings can expect to see all four with the ball in their hands on Monday night. Between them, they went for 216 rushing yards and those four touchdowns in Week 1. Run defense was a significant weakness for the Vikings last year. I thought it looked much improved in the first half against the Packers, particularly Harrison Phillips, who was very impressive, and Jordan Hicks. In the second half, with a significant lead, the defense went more prevent as the Packers running the ball and chewing up the clock wouldn’t do much damage. Not allowing any big plays to Aaron Rodgers was the order of the day.

Although Aaron Jones averaged 9.8 yards per carry, it did no significant damage. The Vikings kept Jones and AJ Dillon under 50 yards for the game. The Eagles will emphasize running the ball early and often, presenting an entirely different task for the defense. It will be interesting to see how the Vikings defense holds up and will be a big indication of if there has been any genuine improvement in the run defense.

The Vikings will hope so as the ground game will be vital to a Vikings victory in Philly on both sides of the ball. They need big games in the trenches and for Cook and Mattison to feast.