The Vikings offense encountered its share of obstacles during the 2017 season, but the unit faced them head-on and demonstrated its resiliency, improving from 2016 in nearly every offensive category.
Rookie running back Dalvin Cook got off to a hot start before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 4 against the Lions, but Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon stepped up to carry Minnesota's run game throughout the rest of the season.
Minnesota's offense also overcame the loss of Sam Bradford. The quarterback had a career outing in the season opener against the Saints before being sidelined for the remainder of the season, except for an attempt to return in the first half of the Week 5 game at Chicago. Case Keenum stepped in admirably, however, finishing 11-3 as a starter in the regular season and with a career-high passer rating of 98.3.
The Vikings continued progressing in areas they improved in 2016, including sacks allowed percentage – from 31st in 2015, to 23rd in 2016, to 8th in the league in 2017. Minnesota's interception rate ranked second in the NFL for the second consecutive season, with opponents picking off only 0.85 percent of the Vikings pass attempts.
Narrowing down which improvements most stand out is a good problem to have in evaluating the 2017 Vikings. Minnesota finished 13-3 in the regular season and made it to the NFC Championship game before losing at Philadelphia to the Eagles, who went on to win Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
Here are three stats where the Vikings offense improved significantly in 2017, with two areas they could work on for next season:
3 Stats that Improved
In **last year’s offensive stat review**, Vikings.com noted that the team could focus on improving its run game in 2017. The Vikings did just that.
Even after losing Cook to an ACL injury, Minnesota kept its ground game rolling. The Vikings recorded 1,957 rushing yards, good for seventh in the NFL, after finishing the 2016 season last in the league with 1,205.
Murray, whom the Vikings signed in free agency, led the team with 842 yards rushing on 216 carries, his second-most productive pro season. McKinnon added 570 yards on 150 attempts.
Red Zone Scoring Percentage
Last year's recap also suggested that Minnesota could improve in red zone scoring, and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer placed a heavy focus on that during minicamp, OTAs, training camp and even practices throughout the season.
After ranking 28th in the league in 2016 with a 46-percent success rate from the red zone, the Vikings improved drastically in 2017. They were successful on 59.9 percent of attempts inside the red zone, which was ninth overall.
Along the same lines, the Vikings also progressed in goal-to-go situations. In 2016, Minnesota's success rate inside its opponents' 10-yard line was 61.5 percent, which ranked 26th in the league. In 2017, those numbers improved to 77.4 percent and ninth overall, respectively. * *
The third area in which Minnesota significantly improved in 2017 was third-down conversions. During the regular season, the Vikings ranked third in the NFL after converting 43.5 percent of their third-down attempts. In 2016, they were successful on third downs only 38 percent of the time, placing them 19th.
2 Stats to Target
Rushing Yards Per Attempt
The Vikings did show some improvement in this area, going from 3.2 yards per attempt (32nd) in 2016 to 3.9 yards per attempt (23rd) in 2017. The number is still a bit low, however, and being able to pick up larger chunks of rush yards at a time would certainly help bolster Minnesota's run game even more.
Yards/Play on 1st Down
Minnesota averaged 4.91 yards per play on first downs, which was nearly 1.5 yards per play less than league leader and AFC Champ New England. The Vikings average (2,277 yards on 464 plays) ranked 22nd in the NFL and was under the league average of 5.23. Improving in this category could help the Vikings stay ahead of the chains, void obvious must-pass scenarios on third downs and have positive effects on other stats.