There’s a Pathetic Vikings Statistic
Many things have been unacceptable in Minnesota, and all of them play a role in the underwhelming 2-4 record, the same loss total as in the previous season through 17 contests. The Vikings are dead last in turnovers, giving the ball away 13 times in six games. They also rank second in the NFL in drops, trailing the Kansas City Chiefs.
There’s a Pathetic Vikings Statistic
But none of those numbers are as embarrassing as the following. The Vikings have not rushed for a touchdown in the 2023 season — six games and not a single rushing score. While both the turnovers and drops could be labeled fluky plays, although the frequency is truly unacceptable, not getting into the endzone on the ground is a problem.
The only other team not reaching the endzone on a running play is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who already had their bye week. Since 1920, only 52 other teams haven’t logged a rushing score in the first six games of the season, and only three eventually reached the postseason. The Vikings are one of just 30 teams in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) without a rushing touchdown through six games.
For comparison, the Miami Dolphins have reached the endzone 15 times on the ground, and Minnesota’s upcoming opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, has scored 12 times running the ball. Regarding passing offense, the Vikings are second in the NFL in touchdowns despite missing some opportunities via drops or wrong ball placement. Minnesota rushed six times inside the opponent’s five-yard line, resulting in an average loss of 0.3 yards.
With star wideout Justin Jefferson inactive for at least the next three contests, the Vikings need to get better on the ground to win enough games to stay relevant upon his return. Kevin O’Connell’s offense ranks last in running attempts, even behind the franchises that had their bye week. They are 27th in rushing yards, below-average in rushing yards per attempt, and the longest running play went for 17 yards, showing a lack of explosiveness as only Tampa Bay and their subpar rushing offense has a shorter best running play.
O’Connell has to fix the whole running offense. The reasons for that are complicated. For one, the Vikings were behind in games quite often, although they even continued to run the ball when they were down 33 points against the Indianapolis Colts, so there goes that excuse.
The offensive line is also an important part of the running game, and it deserved a lot of blame in the past, but in 2023, the unit has played fairly well despite the narrative surrounding them, and most of the linemen excel in run blocking.
While the Vikings didn’t make any changes upfront, they surely changed the running backs. Dalvin Cook was released, and his performances in New York show why runners shouldn’t be paid the big bucks in their late 20s. His departure isn’t the problem either.
His backup, Alexander Mattison, took over as the team’s new starting running back and, so far, couldn’t fully live up to his new role, rushing for 320 yards on 82 carries, resulting in an average of 3.9 yards per carry. Mattison is the same guy Vikings fans saw in the first four seasons of his career — not a bad player but also not a reliable starter.
This is where Cam Akers enters the debate. He has looked more explosive than Mattison and should clearly see more opportunities going forward.
Another person who should be held accountable for the lack of success on the ground is O’Connell. It is hard to separate the execution and the play design as a spectator, but at some point, the results must improve.
He wants to feature the passing game and has done so in most of the 23 games as head coach and playcaller in Minnesota, but making the offense one-dimensional can’t be a good strategy. There are reasons why the Vikings are dead last in time of possession, and the lack of a rushing game is certainly playing a significant role.
Minnesota gained fewer than 50 rushing yards in half of the six games. While some came against strong defensive fronts, the output of 46 rushing yards in Chicago is mind-boggling.
Without Jefferson, and after the other receivers seem to struggle badly to produce without the primary weapon, the rushing game must be featured and needs an increase in its efficiency to win games. Gaining a rushing touchdown should be a point of emphasis entering every game in the future.
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