Vikings HC Addresses Critical Alexander Mattison Discourse
The Minnesota Vikings made a bunch of changes in the offseason to overhaul a broken running game. A bottom-five rushing offense, the Vikings decided to release four-time Pro Bowler Dalvin Cook to rebuild the running back room. Cook still posted decent numbers, but the large workload drove those.
Vikings HC Addresses Critical Alexander Mattison Discourse
With the New York Jets, Cook has shown a clear decline in athleticism, and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was right in making the decision. However, he has put his faith in Cook’s backups to improve the rushing attack while adding only seventh-rounder DeWayne McBride to the mix.
Longtime backup Alexander Mattison was designated to be the new starter in the backfield. After eleven games as the workhorse runner, that plan hasn’t worked out. The running game is not just underwhelming. It is quite frankly embarrassing with even worse numbers than last season, despite an improved offensive line and the addition of blocking tight end Josh Oliver.
Mattison is the focus of fans’ criticism, a logical consequence. The narrative has changed in the last few months, especially on social media. Throughout previous seasons, Mattison was viewed as someone who could start for many teams but was stuck behind Cook. Now, Mattison is starting, and folks want him benched. Both of those opinions were likely overblown.
Changing the subject from feelings and opinions to straight facts, the 25-year-old has produced a career-high 542 rushing yards on 148 carries, resulting in a subpar average of 3.7 yards per attempt. He has not found the end zone as a rusher. Mattison has gained 163 yards on 25 catches in the passing game and scored thrice.
Pro Football Focus grades him as the 54th-best running back of 60 eligible players, with a running grade that ranks him 49th. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Mattison ranks 40th of 46 rushers in the statistic rushing yards over expected. He ranks 46th of 48 ball carriers with more than 60 carries in EPA/rush.
Those numbers objectively show why Mattison is and perhaps should be criticized. He was signed to be the lead back, and the running game isn’t working. Some outside factors, like the blocking and the called plays, can’t be fully ignored, but he hasn’t lived up to expectations.
A recent wave of blame for the loss in Denver hit the Boise State alumnus as he fumbled the ball in field goal range, undoubtedly a major game-changing play. The Vikings had an eight-point lead at that point and could’ve put more points on the board. Throughout his career, Mattison has fumbled four times and is, to this day, one of the best in the business at limiting turnovers, but his recent blunder will be remembered and even fueled the debate about whether he should be benched or not.
Head coach Kevin O’Connell was asked about his veteran ball carrier at his Wednesday presser and he protected his player but also expected him to focus on ball security.
Alex has been incredibly consistent in his role in every phase of our offense. I think there have been some things that he’s made come to life even in this last game where maybe it wasn’t blocked as clean as we had hoped or we got an unscouted look or whatever it was and Alex found a way to churn out some yards and stay efficient. I like how physical he runs, I think he does a really nice job in the protection phase, and I think he does a nice job catching the ball out of the backfield when we can give him a chance and turn those into opportunities.
As far as the criticism goes, it’s not something we were really concerned with, the one thing I’d say is, and one thing I’ve talked to Alex about is just the ball security and how important that is for him to continue to be able to churn out yards and get opportunities and for us as an offense, we can’t put the ball on the ground. Alex knows that.Kevin O’Connell
Indeed, the main reason why Mattison is still getting the bulk of the snaps despite his ineffective numbers is his pass-protection skills. He is a strong and physical back and, without a doubt, a superior pass-protector compared to sophomore Ty Chandler, whose inability to keep defenders away from his quarterback cost the Vikings their third turnover in last week’s game. But KOC enjoys his running back tandem.
I like the mix we have right now. Ty is getting a few more carries to provide maybe a little bit more burst and athleticism but they complement each other well with how we’re using them and we’ll continue to figure out what the balance looks like but I feel good (about those guys) in a year where we’ve needed a little bit of depth at that position.Kevin O’Connell
Chandler played 32 and 23 offensive snaps in the last two games, by far the two highest numbers of his career. He also had a total of 25 carries in those two contests. He only had 14 career runs before that.
In addition to Mattison’s power, Chandler’s unique speed is an excellent change-of-pace option. However, there is a reason why the coaching staff doesn’t seem to trust the sophomore, and that is his pass protection. Once he gains some consistency in that area of the game and gets more invariant in his reads in the running game, he will be a key player down the stretch for the Vikings because of his ability to create big plays.
At this point, neither of the two is a perfect back, and the Vikings must figure out how to use them in a way that features their strengths but hides their deficiencies. The way the coaching staff has been talking about them since Cam Akers tore his Achilles tendon, they both should be expected to work in a committee for the remainder of the season.
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