Heading into the Vikings final four-game stretch, ESPN's Courtney Cronin took a deep dive into Minnesota's run-pass balance and shared some thoughts on potential opportunities moving forward.
Cronin pointed out that the Vikings passing game is ranked No. 7 overall with Kirk Cousins at the helm but that the running game "has been up and down" throughout the season. She wrote:
Zimmer is adamant that the Vikings need to run the ball more, particularly after Dalvin Cook totaled just nine carries (an average of 9.33 yards per carry) in a loss at the New England Patriots in Week 13. Achieving better balance offensively has been a point of emphasis for Zimmer all season. If it's true that the best teams are the ones that run the ball well in December and January, then Minnesota needs to find a solution quickly.
Cronin took a look at how the Vikings run-pass ratio "stacks up" with other playoff contenders, saying it falls below all four NFC division leaders (Rams, Saints, Bears and Cowboys). Minnesota has 253 rushing attempts through the first 13 weeks of the season, marking the team's lowest "since ESPN Stats and Information began tracking NFL team data in 2001."
She said that "several things" factor into the low number, including Cook's time sidelined with an injury and an offensive line that has "struggled to consistently move defenders off the ball and get to the second level."
Designed runs have been called an average of 37.6 percent of the time this season, which would be the lowest rate in a single season since ESPN began tracking designed plays in 2006. Rushing, as a whole, is down across the league. The NFL is averaging 25.7 rush attempts per team per game, which would be the lowest rate in a single season since at least 1932.
Since 2006, the lowest designed rush percentage by a team that made the playoffs was 30.9 by the Green Bay Packers in 2016. That team beat the New York Giants in the [Wild Card] round and defeated the No. 1 seed Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the playoffs before losing to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC title game.
If the playoffs began today, Minnesota, as the second NFC Wild Card, would have that Packers team beat by 0.03 percent on designed rushes. It's not impossible to believe that if things continue to trend the way they are that the Vikings can make a playoff push – even a deep one – but finding more balance in the run game could help the Vikings close out games; protect fourth-quarter leads; set up Cousins' play-action game; run the ball in the red zone, instead of forcing tight-window throws; and wear teams down up front.
Cook, Richardson give back to Twin Cities community
The Vikings are regularly involved in the surrounding Twin Cities area on "Community Tuesdays" throughout the season, and the philanthropy ramps up even more around the holidays.
Earlier this week, Adam Thielen hosted an event at Topgolf benefiting the Thielen Foundation, Vikings teammates visited the Al Lenzmeir West Side Boys & Girls Club, and Anthony Barr held a pizza party at the Jeremiah Program where he presented gifts to single mothers and their children.
In addition, running back Dalvin Cook and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson partnered with the Minnesota Vikings Foundation – which they will be representing during the My Cause, My Cleats game on Dec. 16 – and Pepsi to provide resources for Mary's Place in Minneapolis.
Service members receive care packages from Vikings
Numerous players in the Vikings locker room have found ways to give back this holiday season, and the organization is doing the same.
Recently, service members received care packages from their favorite team. Photos and a brief write-up were featured on FOX9.com:
More than 600 Minnesota soldiers received warm season's greetings from their hometown football team this week. The Vikings sent more than 600 care packages – one for each soldier – to the 34thRed Bull Infantry Division currently deployed in Kuwait.
The care packages contained small personal hygiene items, some Vikings gear and a handwritten card from a player or staff member.