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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings, Eagles is a battle of strong running back tandems

By Matthew Coller

Over the first three weeks of the 2017 season, running back Dalvin Cook appeared to be the centerpiece of the Minnesota Vikings offense.

In games against New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, he gained 288 yards on just 61 carries and caught 10 passes for 82 yards. Over 16 games, that would translate to 1,536 yards rushing and 437 yards receiving.

Those types of numbers are a rarity in today’s NFL.

Ten years ago, 17 players went over 1,000 yards, while just nine cleared that mark this year. Le’Veon Bell rushed more than 300 times this season, while six players did it in 2007 and nine had plus-300 runs in 2002.

When Cook went down for the season with an ACL tear, the Vikings turned to two proven backs in Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon. It may have taken two players to match Cook’s production, but Murray and McKinnon combined for 1,348 yards rushing, 56 catches for 476 yards receiving over the final 12 weeks.

Their roles became more defined as the season went along. Murray was a go-to runner in short yardage and goal line situations, where McKinnon was a change-of-pace in the running game and main target for quarterback Case Keenum in the passing game.

Both players had standout games. Murray went for 113 and one touchdown against the Ravens, while McKinnon gained 114 yards receiving against the Bengals in Week 15.

In the Divisonal round game against the New Orleans Saints, Murray grinded his way to 50 yards on 19 carries and scored a touchdown. McKinnon rushed eight times for 34 yards, but was slowed to just three catches for six yards in the passing game.

The Vikings’ tandem will have its work cut out as they face the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL.

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Minnesota

Latavius Murray – 216 carries, 842 yards, eight touchdowns

Jerick McKinnon – 150 carries, 570 yards, 51 catches

Philadelphia

LeGarrette Blount – 173 carries, 766 yards

Jay Ajayi (seven games) – 70 carries, 408 yards

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On the other side, the Eagles have multiple backs who can either grind a defense down or create big plays.

Midway through the year, the Eagles traded for running back Jay Ajayi. Since arriving in Philadelphia, he’s averaged a remarkable 5.8 yards per carry and 58.3 yards per game.

LeGarrette Blount, who’s listed at 6-foot-1, 245-pounds, averaged 4.4 yards per carry this season

Corey Clement has also been a contributor to Doug Pederson’s offense, gaining 321 yards on 74 carries.

“You get a little more variety in your run game, you can utilize each one in the passing game, the screen game, you just don’t ever want to get too predictable with it,” Pederson said via conference call on Wednesday. “I think having the freshness of your running backs, the flexibility to call different plays with different guys could potentially keep a defense off balance.”

The Eagles finished the year third in rushing yards per carry and third in rushing yards per game.

With rough field conditions and elite defenses, the battle of the running back tandems could play a big role in whether the Vikings or Eagles represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

The post Vikings, Eagles is a battle of strong running back tandems appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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