Will a Vikings RB Please Step Up?
The Minnesota Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers by 14 on Sunday at Lambeau Field. They did so convincingly despite a slow start and leaving points on the board. They also did so without a running game to speak of.
Will a Vikings RB Please Step Up?
When the Minnesota Vikings jettisoned Dalvin Cook this offseason, it was as much about his cap hit as it was declining talent. His 2022 season, despite playing in each game for the first time in his career, was not a pillar of productivity. Now, with the Jets, there’s continued proof that the abilities have declined.
Instead of rolling with Cook, the Vikings brought back Alexander Mattison under the premise that he would be the lead option. That was scrutinized throughout the preseason, and the strength of Minnesota’s running back room got a side eye more than once. Myles Gaskin joined the collection early in the year and then was ultimately replaced with Cam Akers.
Kevin O’Connell has rolled out Mattison, Akers, and Ty Chandler, with Kene Nwawgu spending most of the year on injured reserve. The problem is none of them have shown any sort of consistency or sustained production. Until last week’s game with Green Bay, the Vikings had not seen a running back hit paydirt.
Against the Packers, Minnesota recorded 31 rushing attempts for a disturbingly bad 62 yards. Mattison turned his 16 touches into 31 yards, while Akers found the end zone but ran for just 19 yards on nine carries. To say that Minnesota has been ineffective on the ground would be putting it nicely.
Going forward, something has to change, and fast. Kirk Cousins is now out for the year with a torn Achilles. Jaren Hall is presumed to take over in the short term, and asking him to run the offense with no ability to run the ball is quite a predicament. The Minnesota offensive line has been strong in pass protection this year, but holes need to be opened wider, or runners need to hit them better.
For most of the season, it has looked like Mattison is miscast as an every-down runner. He has been unable to show sustained ability to hang onto the role, and the explosiveness seen when Akers steps in is easily visible. A shift in who starts or leads the backfield could be step one toward correcting the problem.
At this point, the answers have to come from within. Regardless of whether Nwangwu is available or not, it’s Mattison, Akers, and Chandler who should be expected to carry the load. O’Connell needs at least one of them to step up and start producing from the position, and even more so as opposing defenses will now challenge a lesser signal caller.
After showing such an impressive ability as a fill-in for Cook over the years, it has been disappointing to see Mattison flop so hard. Akers came over from the Los Angeles Rams looking for more opportunity than he had been given, and executing when called upon should be his focus.
Minnesota can’t afford to be so one-sided on offense anymore, and figuring out the running game sooner rather than later is a must.
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.