EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Matt Asiata used his size for scores, and Jerick McKinnon utilized his speed to find space.
It proved to be a dynamic duo in Minnesota's 41-28 win against Atlanta on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium. Both Vikings running backs said their confidence increased with every block delivered by Minnesota's offensive line, fullback Jerome Felton and receivers.
Asiata became the first player to post three touchdowns in a single game this season, and McKinnon rushed for 135 yards, which is the most by a rookie in 2014. McKinnon's tally included a 55-yarder that flipped field position with help from a down-field block by receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. McKinnon called the blocking "spectacular" and later said it was "everything you ask for and better."
"I definitely didn't imagine it or think of (his first 100-yard game) but you know things worked out very well thanks to our offensive line and receivers," McKinnon said. "Everyone was blocking really well, and I was able to find some gaps and make some plays. Matt Asiata did really good early on punching yards and doing what he does. He moved the ball forward and made people miss."
Asiata followed the push and worked through defenders on scoring runs of 3 and 6 yards in the first quarter, and powered through from a yard out early in the fourth to put the Vikings up for good.
"(The offensive line) punched them in the mouth from the get-go," McKinnon said. "That's what kept us motivated, kept us pushing, and that's what set the tempo. When they have confidence, we all have confidence."
Vikings Coach Mike Zimmer said Monday the effective blocking began at the snap and continued throughout the play to enable repetitive rush attempts.
"I thought we did a nice job coming off the ball," Zimmer said. "I thought we stayed with our blocks, I thought we executed well. I thought we maybe wore them down a little bit, defensively, and I thought the backs ran good too."
The combination of Asiata and McKinnon resulted in 213 yards on 38 carries (5.6 yards per carry) and the three touchdowns. Rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater added 27 yards on five rushes that included an impressive 13-yard touchdown.
Zimmer, who is in his first season at the helm, after spending the previous 14 seasons as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, said different running styles can strain a defense.
"Being a defensive coach, when you have two different types of backs come in there it changes your mindset on some of your calls and also the players, they have to think a little bit differently," Zimmer said. "It's not necessarily different plays all of the time — it's one guy can get to the perimeter faster, one guy can be a little bit more physical. I hope that we continue to grow (McKinnon's) role, but I don't think he is going to be an every down back, right now."