Vikings Saw the Perfect Running Back on Sunday

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The Minnesota Vikings have been looking for a step up in the running game all season. While it was a sensible decision to move on from Dalvin Cook, they needed to get more from the group they started with. On Sunday, the perfect storm was highlighted most imperfectly.

Vikings Saw the Perfect Running Back on Sunday

When Dalvin Cook was jettisoned this offseason, Alexander Mattison was re-signed under the premise that he would be the lead back. There was plenty of uncertainty as to the quality of the group as a whole, and veteran Myles Gaskin was brought in to start the year. When Cam Akers became available, he was deemed a worthy trade target. When Akers went down, Gaskin was brought back.

At no point this year has Kevin O’Connell felt confident enough in the group he started with. On Sunday night against the Denver Broncos, we saw why.

Mattison has not been close to worthy of a lead-back role. Despite playing well in Cook’s shadow during recent seasons, he has lacked explosiveness and burst while being wholly inefficient. Mattison also isn’t a good receiver, and his ability to beat defenses in multiple ways isn’t a calling card for him. However, he is a solid blocker in pass protection, and picking up the blitz is something you can count on him for.

Vikings Saw
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports.

On the flip side, Ty Chandler is also what Akers looked to be in Minnesota. He’s shifty and quick, able to find a hole and accelerate through it. Chandler has returner skills to his credit and can also catch the ball out of the backfield. As a dynamic threat with efficiency as part of his game, it’s easy to tell there’s a boost when he is in the lineup. Unfortunately, his lack of blocking skill was exposed on Sunday again when his inability to pick up the blitz forced Josh Dobbs’ weak throw into an interception.

Therein lies the reality. Minnesota has an imperfect situation at running back, where the perfect solution is a combination of what they have.

Did We See a Change
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It’s unlikely that Mattison will develop the hands to become a solid receiver at this point in his career, and his efficiency will only continue to trend downward. He’s not likely to get quicker or become a better runner at this point, and that all means Chandler must learn how to block. It’s clear that Chandler gives Minnesota a better opportunity to find success on the field, but he can’t be schemed out in pass protection.

As Chandler continues to see extended reps in games to come, he will need to focus on the additional parts of his craft if he wants a genuine chance to start. There’s no denying that the Vikings offense could benefit from shifting more touches from Mattison to Chandler, but there has to be trust from everyone on the offensive side that the latter can compete no matter the play call.

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Tennessee running back Ty Chandler. © Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC.

It has now been two seasons in which the running game has largely been lackluster under O’Connell. Focusing on the passing game and finding so much success there has made that reality passable, but with Dobbs under center, having a more balanced offense could do wonders.

We are probably at least a few weeks away from a complete change at running back, but Chandler can significantly help himself by growing down the stretch.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.