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Bleacher Report – Vikings

McKinnon’s turn: Another week, another big running back performance for the Vikings

By Matthew Coller

When Dalvin Cook went down with a torn ACL, it was certainly fair to wonder if the Minnesota Vikings’ rushing attack was about to take a major step back. But each week, either Jerick McKinnon or Latavius Murray has stepped up to insure the Vikings keep moving the ball on the ground and on screen passes. Sunday against the Browns, it was a McKinnon day.

The Vikings’ offense sputtered out of the gate against the Browns. Quarterback Case Keenum was picked off on the opening drive. After five possessions, the Vikings had only come up with a field goal – and that came on an 18-yard drive off a turnover.

With 6:00 remaining in the first half, McKinnon took over. He picked up nine yards on a second-and-10, setting up a third-down conversion throw to tight end David Morgan. Then McKinnon ripped off another big chunk with six yards on first down. Keenum found him for an 8-yard pass to gain another first down. Then he picked up five yards to the Cleveland 18. On the next play, Keenum found Adam Thielen for the Vikings’ first touchdown. The throw came on a play-action fake to McKinnon.

“With the run-fake, the safety had to play the run and it just left me open,” Thielen said in his post-game press conference.

In the four games since Cook went down, the Vikings’ fourth-year running back has carried the ball 59 times for 261 yards (4.4 yards per carry), scored four touchdowns and caught 20 passes.

In every game except last week against Baltimore, he’s managed a 20-plus yard play. This week’s came at a key time. Keenum found his speedy running back for a 20-yard gain with just 34 seconds remaining in the first half. McKinnon’s catch helped set up a Kai Forbath field goal to bring the Vikings within one point heading into the half.

McKinnon put the Vikings ahead for good late in the third quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run and a score on the two-point conversion.

One bonus this year with the former Georgia Southern quarterback is that his pass blocking has improved greatly. He made several strong blocks in front of Keenum on Sunday – something that was a problem at times last season. Heading into Sunday’s game, Pro Football Focus ranked McKinnon as the 14th best pass protecting running back.

There are plenty of places to hand credit out for the Vikings’ 6-2 start – including Keenum, coordinator Pat Shurmur, receiver Adam Thielen, who had 98 yards on Sunday and the offensive line. But McKinnon has to rank toward the top of the list. Without a threat out of the backfield, the Vikings’ offense wouldn’t have been able to move the ball most weeks.

In Chicago, McKinnon’s 58-yard touchdown helped seal the deal and Murray went for over 100 yards against the Ravens. The Vikings are among the league’s best play-action teams (third best according to Football Outsiders), in part because teams have to factor for their run. And McKinnon has been one of Keenum’s most successful weapons, averaging 7.2 yards per catch. The Vikings’ backup QB would have struggling mightily if he was forced to work the ball downfield to win.

This was the McKinnon we expected to see after a down 2016 season – a duel threat player that can make an impact on a weekly basis. And he certainly showed that against the Browns.

The post McKinnon’s turn: Another week, another big running back performance for the Vikings appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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