Vikings Can’t Get Rid of Their Primary Flaw
The Vikings are a fascinating team. A wonderful outlier. In the season’s first three games, they continued to shoot themselves in the foot, resulting in a three-game losing stretch. A few weeks later, Justin Jefferson got hurt, and the team was sitting at a 1-4 record. Kirk Cousins was lost for the season at 4-4. Still, the organization keeps pushing towards the ultimate goal, just laughing in the face of adversity.
Vikings Can’t Get Rid of Their Primary Flaw
Now at 6-4 with a comfortable lead for the final wild card spot and still in contention for the NFC North, the franchise is in great spirits after winning five straight games. The locker room believes, rallying behind Joshua Dobbs, the band Creed, and head coach Kevin O’Connell, who brought a great culture into the building.
Dobbs’ unlikely magic on offense and a surprisingly excellent defense have been the reason for the last two wins, even without Cousins and Jefferson. But to keep that going, the team must finally fix their one weakness. The rushing attack has been a disaster in 2023, and quite frankly, it has been since O’Connell took over 21 months ago, ranking 29th in EPA/run in that span.
It was bad last year. Dalvin Cook’s play obviously declined later in the season. He still put up big numbers, but those were skewed because of his extensive usage and some big plays. Having the ability to make those few big plays was why the Vikings won some games, but those were still outliers.
Throughout the offseason, the Vikes made moves regarding the running game. They kept the offensive line, not just the starters, all of them. The five top guys overall specialize in run blocking, although they have taken a big step in pass protection this season. Elite blocking tight end Josh Oliver was signed, and fullback C.J. Ham, who many speculated could be cut, received a contract extension.
Cook was released, but Alexander Mattison was brought back, as well as sophomore Ty Chandler and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah selected UAB star rusher DeWayne McBride in the final round of April’s draft. After Week 2, the franchise also pulled the trigger and traded for Cam Akers.
The theory was obvious. Instead of having one star running back, the Vikings hoped either one guy in the group would step up or a committee would take over. That, in addition to a more creative running scheme with bigger personnel, should result in more success. Well, that hasn’t worked one bit.
Through ten games, O’Connell’s running offense has produced 857 yards, 28th in the NFL. The 85.7 yards per game rank 29th, and the average yards per run of 3.7 ranks 27th. According to EPA/rush, the Vikings rank 27th, and their success rate is 21st.
All of those numbers show that it’s just bad all around. The bad news, however, is that it’s hard to win games that way, and Sunday’s close win against the Saints is the best example. When teams have a big lead, they are leaning on the rushing attack to drain the clock but also to limit the interception risk. Especially with a backup quarterback, it is essential to be able to run the ball. The Vikings can’t do that, resulting in many quick punts, leaving the door open for the Saints to pull off a comeback.
The team’s leading rusher is Mattison, with 461 yards and a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry. He has not yet reached the endzone on a rushing play. Akers produced a total of 138 rushing yards for 3.6 yards per carry and one touchdown but is out for the season with a torn Achilles. Chandler managed to gain 3.8 yards per carry for 87 yards and one touchdown.
A bright spot on the ground has been quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who led the team in rushing in his first game and was just one yard short from repeating that feat on Sunday. He has been responsible for two of the four rushing scores this season and has already tabulated 110 rushing yards.
With Mattison in concussion protocol and Akers on IR, the Vikings have re-signed Myles Gaskin, and Kevin O’Connell mentioned during Monday’s presser that rookie McBride might play against the Broncos.
Blame about the inadequate running game should be spread around. The running backs haven’t been real difference makers, the offensive line, while improved, hasn’t been perfect, and O’Connell’s passing scheme looks much more creative than his running offense.
Regardless of whose fault it is, it needs to be fixed as soon as possible, as it will come back to bite the Vikings. Defending leads or overcoming bad games from the passing attack is much harder without the ability to run the ball.
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