Expect One Viking to Have an Increased Workload vs. 49ers

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Entering the Monday night contest against the San Francisco 49ers, the Vikings have been a disappointing team throughout the season, winning only a couple of the six games, both against subpar competition. The 49ers are a tough opponent, but it is still close to a must-win matchup. For that reason, the Vikes could opt to give some new guys a chance to compete.

Expect One Viking to Have an Increased Workload vs. 49ers

Kevin O’Connell’s offense has been a problem. Their inconsistency with frequent three-and-outs and turnovers has led directly to the 2-4 record. The head coach must get his unit back on track, even without Justin Jefferson, who will miss three more games on IR.

Expect 1 Viking To Have an Increased Workload vs. 49ers
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Other playmakers must step up in his absence. One of them is running back Cam Akers, who has been waiting for his opportunity. O’Connell was asked about a potential increased role for the former Florida State standout rusher:

Yeah, the potential for it is absolutely there. We’ll look at it from the standpoint of making sure we give all those guys a chance to get into the rhythm of the game. I’ve really liked what Cam has done since he got here. He’s got a really nice combination in my mind of, he sees it, he can get the run in the right spots, and then even last week, didn’t have a lot of opportunity.

Both plays where he touched the ball, either broke a tackle and added some hidden yards on the play or found a nice little spot there on the run. We’ve just got to make sure all ball carriers, receivers, running backs, tight ends, ball security is a premium against a physical team like this, and it continues to be a major point of emphasis for us.

Kevin O’Connell

Minnesota’s rushing attack has been a major flaw in 2023. Alexander Mattison replaced Dalvin Cook as the starting running back. The career backup rushed for 320 yards in six games. His two touchdowns came on receiving plays. The Vikings have not scored on a rushing play, as the only team in the NFL with the Steelers scoring on Sunday. A truly embarrassing fact.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
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To combat those issues, the Vikings traded for former Rams second-round pick Akers after their Week 2 loss but haven’t used him much. He was inactive in Week 3 but suited up in the following three games, receiving a total of 11 carries for 63 yards and five catches for 21 yards, giving Mattison a breather for a couple of drives per game.

There are some clear differences between those two guys. Mattison is a powerful runner who lacks breakaway speed. He usually gets the yards the line allows him to get but won’t make defenders miss to log big plays. He has not recorded a play of 20 or more yards in almost two years, but his success rate (a metric that shows if the runner is staying ahead of schedule) is quite high.

Akers, on the other hand, is a shifty player but not as strong. His approach to running the ball is also the polar opposite. He wants to hit big plays and takes angles that can make it happen. However, that mindset includes a higher likelihood of negative runs.

Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports.

The coaching staff must decide if they want to feature that big play ability more, especially with Jefferson not playing against the strong 49ers defense. Minnesota’s offense has also shown an inability to string together long drives without making a critical mistake at some point, so having explosive plays is crucial. The most likely scenario is that Akers and Mattison will share the work at the running back spot as both players offer a valuable skillset, but increasing Akers’ workload is sensible.

Vikings fans will also get an extended look at another newcomer. Left guard Ezra Cleveland will miss the game with a foot injury, and Dalton Risner will replace him. Kick returner Kene Nwangwu will also make his season debut after missing the first six contests with a lower back injury.

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