A Castigated Viking Has Been Balling Out Recently

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The keys to victory when starting a backup quarterback are easy to find. Limiting the opponent’s offense is how backups can continue to post decent team results despite not having the starter’s talent. Another big puzzle piece is the running offense. Minnesota’s rushing attack was infamously a disaster for most of the season, but it has come around.

A Castigated Viking Has Been Balling Out Recently

The running offense underwent a serious overhaul in the offseason, at least from a personnel perspective. Longtime star runner Dalvin Cook was released after his fourth straight season with 1,100 yards on the ground — for many, a mind-boggling decision. However, roughly six months later, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has obviously made the right choice, as Cook has only rushed for 210 yards, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry.

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

His backup, Alexander Mattison, has taken over the top role on the depth chart in Kevin O’Connell’s offense. Through 13 games as the starter, the former Boise State runner has racked up 660 rushing yards and 174 through the air. Although he undoubtedly is not one of the league’s top running backs, Mattison has done a decent job, especially in the last three games, arguably having the best games of his career as the starter.

A Castigated Viking Has Been Balling Out Recently
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He turned 38 rushes into 199 yards, averaging 5.24 yards per carry, a considerable improvement compared to the abysmal 3.55 yards per attempt in the first ten contests of the season. Many Vikings fans called for Ty Chandler to get the bulk of the handoffs after blaming Mattison for the suspect running game. His crucial fumble in Denver didn’t help his reputation.

However, he has been great recently, and it should also be noted that Denver, Chicago, and Las Vegas have been in the top ten in rushing defense according to Rush EPA since the halfway point of the season, so he has not padded his numbers against bad units.

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Very well, a positive influence might have had recently benched starting quarterback Joshua Dobbs, whose rushing threat is helping the running game. The read option takes one defender out of the equation and the defense playing contain on the edges on most downs also opens up holes.

It remains to be seen how the offense looks with Nick Mullens under center. While he is not a rushing threat, a more efficient and on-time aerial attack could also help the running game.

Mattison has not reached the end zone on the ground, which is a major concern for a starting running back. He is not a big-play threat with limited speed, and in the red zone, the offensive line lacks the necessary push to open up holes. At some point, O’Connell and Mattison must find a way to have a better running game at the goal line, especially without Kirk Cousins under center.

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His status for Saturday’s matchup in Cincinnati is doubtful, as he missed practices on Tuesday and Wednesday with an ankle sprain. If he were forced to sit out, his backup, Ty Chandler, would get the most extensive workload of his career.

Chandler offers more explosiveness, but the missed reads are much more frequent than Mattison’s at this point in their careers. The sophomore could also be handicapped by a banged-up offensive line that might be missing right tackle Brian O’Neill, who departed from the game in Las Vegas with an ankle injury.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

If healthy, he will continue to have a prominent role in the season’s final stretch with backup quarterbacks in the lineup.

It’s time to put past evaluations and opinions about Mattison aside and give him credit for his recent performances. While other skill position players haven’t been at their best, Mattison has stepped up and was quietly the top weapon on offense.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt