Running Game Should Be Vikings’ Focus Out of the Bye

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The Minnesota Vikings will be back in action on Sunday after getting additional rest during the bye week. Who emerges as their quarterback remains the focal point for many, but the running game is a narrative necessary for watching.

Running Game Should Be Vikings’ Focus Out of the Bye

Basically, since Kevin O’Connell took over for the Minnesota Vikings, the running game has been in decline. Part of that was a direct reflection of the declining talent possessed by Dalvin Cook, but his style hasn’t favored a balanced offense. After Cook was let go during the offseason, it should have been expected that a further fall would occur as Alexander Mattison took over, but things are dire now.

Running Game
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For weeks, it has been apparent that Mattison cannot run away with the lead role. He was a great fill-in back for Cook, but his performance leaves plenty to be desired every week. That hasn’t stopped O’Connell from consistently giving him starts, and even after Cam Akers emerged as an option, the status quo didn’t shift.

Now Akers is on injured reserve, and it has become the Mattison and Ty Chandler show. Despite starting against the Bears, Chandler, not Mattison, got the opening carry. Chandler got just three more the rest of the way, though, and his usage was confusing, to say the least. If now isn’t the time to fix the running game or make a change, it probably never will be.

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Chandler should be taking first-team reps at running back, and the focus should be on getting him at a comfortable pass-blocking level. Mattison has continued to see opportunities because he can provide additional protection for the quarterback, but that can’t be why Chandler remains off the field. If the Vikings can find ways to help the youngster pick up pressure, his overall value only goes up.

It is great that Minnesota will get Justin Jefferson back for the tilt against the Las Vegas Raiders, but they already have seen the depths a fill-in quarterback can fall to. Even with the NFL’s best wide receiver returning, it would be foolish to remain so one-dimensional offensively. O’Connell has multiple pass catchers for his quarterbacks to utilize, but opening up the field by forcing the defense to stay honest is a must. Chandler looks to be the answer on the ground, and his hands can also help him factor in through the air.

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Not only will it be worth watching who gets that start on Sunday against Las Vegas, but how much work Chandler gets should say plenty about what preparation looked like during the time off. There is no excuse for the Vikings to continue running the ball so poorly behind an offensive line geared toward it, and infusing the team with a fresh set of legs makes a ton of sense. Hopefully, O’Connell has some changes in mind, and it wouldn’t be bad if the results followed positively as well.

If the Vikings remain in playoff contention, even with competition coming from behind them, then it will be because they can play complete games down the stretch. Running the ball is part of that equation.

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.