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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings have had success vs. receiving backs, but McCaffrey offers a different challenge

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings have matched up with a number of versatile running backs this year and locked them all down.

According to Football Outsiders, the Vikings rank sixth in the NFL against running backs in the passing game, giving up just 35 yards through the air to running backs per game. And that’s coming against some of the best receiving running backs like Alvin Kamara, Chris Thompson, Duke Johnson and Theo Riddick.

But this week will be a different type of challenge as they face the Carolina Panthers and first-round pick Christian McCaffrey. Pro Football Focus has tracked McCaffrey as lining up at the running back position for 379 plays, in the slot 93 times, at wideout for 43 snaps, fullback 34 times and even once at tight end.

“You have to be patient with this offense,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “That’s the biggest thing. You can’t see ghosts because there will be a lot of window dressing, a lot of misdirection, you really have to read your keys this week more than most weeks. They do so much shifting and movements and motions across the screen and flashes and fake handoffs and all sorts of stuff.”

McCaffrey has been targeted 90 times, catching 64 passes for 501 yards. He ranks as PFF’s No. 2 running back in receiving, only behind Kamara.

While the former Stanford standout only averages 3.5 yards per carry, but the Panthers have found more success with their rookie on the ground recently, picking up 167 yards on 33 rushes over the past four games (5.1 yards per carry).

“Him being able to run the ball and also in the passing game, he’s a tough matchup for linebackers, safeties, he’s a tough matchup,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “That’ll be interesting this weekend for our guys to be disciplined as far as leverage on him in coverage, being able to tackle him in the open field and those type of deals.”

McCaffrey runs an array of different routes for a running back. In his best game as a pass catcher, a nine-reception performance against New Orleans, he went deep, ran wheel routes and worked the middle of the field.

The Panthers have reshaped their offense around McCaffrey, which could make for a different challenge for Mike Zimmer’s defense than in the past when they have frustrated quarterback Cam Newton.

Newton is now averaging 8.6 air yards per throw according to NFL NextGen stats, which is down from 11.2 last season – which was the highest mark in the NFL.

“Each game is different, though. Every time you play someone it’s a different deal,” head coach Mike Zimmer said.

The Vikings’ head coach pointed out the Panthers have been proficient on third down. McCaffrey has played a big role in that, catching 14 passes for 175 yards on third downs with 10 first downs.

The post Vikings have had success vs. receiving backs, but McCaffrey offers a different challenge appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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