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Season Rewind: Running Backs Find Late Stride

Posted Jan 11, 2017

The Vikings run game started slowly out of the gate in 2016 but began to hit stride toward the end of the season.

Injuries to three-time rushing champion Adrian Peterson in Week 2, as well as across a revamped offensive line likely contributed to Minnesota’s early struggles.

The Vikings finished 2016 with 1,205 yards and nine rushing touchdowns on 380 carries a year after totaling 2,211 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns on 474 carries. Minnesota’s 75.3 yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry ranked 32nd in the NFL one season removed from ranking fourth in both categories.

Jerick McKinnon led the Vikings with 539 rushing yards on 159 carries, and Matt Asiata followed with 402 yards on 121 carries. Peterson totaled 72 yards on 37 carries in missing all but three games of his 10th NFL season.

The absence of Peterson and early difficulties with mounting the rush attack prompted McKinnon and Asiata to become more frequent receiving targets, particularly when Pat Shurmur became interim offensive coordinator after Norv Turner’s resignation in November.

McKinnon finished with 43 catches for 255 yards and two receiving touchdowns, and Asiata totaled 32 receptions for 263 yards.

Sam Bradford’s high completion rate on short passes essentially provided an extension of the run game while the Vikings kept plugging away for better gains on the ground.

Minnesota rushed 28 times for a season-best 124 yards in the finale against Chicago. McKinnon did most of the damage, averaging 5.6 per carry (89 yards on 16 attempts).

“It was good to go out with a win. The guys up front did their job,” McKinnon said when the Vikings cleaned out their lockers on Jan. 2. “We’ve been challenged all year; I’m just proud of the way, not just how the offense has fought throughout injuries and stuff like that, (but) the whole team. We definitely wanted it to be different and to be going into the playoffs right now, but unfortunately that’s not the situation.”

After having just five rushes of 15 or more yards in the first 15 games of the season, the Vikings recorded two such runs against the Bears, a team-season-long of 36 by McKinnon and a 24-yard scramble by Bradford.

Minnesota had 27 rushes of 15 or more yards in 2015 and seven plays that were longer than the longest run of 2016.

Peterson also spoke with media members on Jan. 2, telling them that he “would love to finish my career as a Minnesota Viking.”

After working his way back into the lineup from a torn meniscus in Week 15, Peterson was unable to play the final two weeks of the season. He said the consolation of being injured so early is a quicker start to “getting my body in shape and getting ready for next year.”

“I didn’t get to play a lot of football this year, so the plus side to that is I can get started early working out,” Peterson said.

Notable number

After Shurmur became interim offensive coordinator, McKinnon was third in the NFL in receptions by a running back from Week 9 to Week 17. Only David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell had more receptions in that span. McKinnon was seventh in receiving yards (226) by a running back in the final nine weeks of the season.

Memorable moment

The Vikings implemented the Wildcat formation with McKinnon and Asiata in the backfield at the same time and Bradford to the right or left edge of the formation. McKinnon, who ran option plays in college at Georgia Southern, scored the final offensive touchdown of 2016 on a play from this formation. McKinnon forced Bears defenders to sell out on a handoff to Asiata before pulling the ball back and picking up a downfield block by Adam Thielen for a 10-yard touchdown.

2016 Rushing Stats

Team

380 attempts, 1,205 yards, 3.2 yards per carry, 9 touchdowns

Jerick McKinnon

159 attempts, 539 yards, 3.4 per carry, 2 touchdowns

Matt Asiata

121 attempts, 402 yards, 3.3 per carry, 6 touchdowns

Adrian Peterson

37 attempts, 72 yards, 1.9 per carry, 0 touchdowns

Sam Bradford (QB)

20 attempts, 53 yards, 2.7 per carry, 0 touchdowns

(includes kneel-downs)

Ronnie Hillman *

18 attempts, 50 yards, 2.8 per carry, 0 touchdowns

Cordarrelle Patterson (WR)

7 attempts, 43 yards, 6.1 per carry, 0 touchdowns

Zach Line (FB)

7 attempts, 15 yards, 2.1 per carry, 0 touchdowns

Adam Thielen (WR)

2 attempts, 15 yards, 7.5 per carry, 0 touchdowns

Stefon Diggs (WR)

3 attempts, 10 yards, 3.3 per carry, 0 touchdowns

Shaun Hill (QB)

5 attempts, 5 yards, 1.0 per carry, 0 touchdowns

(includes kneel-downs)

Rhett Ellison (TE)

1 attempt, 1 yard, 1.0 per carry, 1 touchdown

* Hillman did not spend all of 2016 with the Vikings