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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Creativity helped Vikings run game show signs of life

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings’ offense was mostly feeble against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, but if there was anything good to be taken out of the performance, it’s that the running game averaged more than five yards per carry for the first time this season.

Since Pat Shurmur took over as interim offensive coordinator, there has been an uptick in offensive imagination. Against the Arizona Cardinals, the Vikings gained 29 yards on a penalty off a flea flicker. They also went into the Detroit game on Thursday gaining more than five yards per rush out of the Wildcat formation – a set that had been declared dead since 2009.

The Cowboys have been an average team against the run, giving up 4.1 yards per carry so far this season. If receiver Stefon Diggs isn’t back in the lineup, the Vikings may need a big night out of their run game to keep drives alive. It became clear against Detroit that Diggs is the centerpiece of the offense and quarterback Sam Bradford has a difficult time finding receivers downfield if his No. 1 target isn’t available.

On Minnesota’s first drive against Detroit, they ran five times for just 14 yards, but one of them was a 5-yard touchdown run by Matt Asiata. During that drive, the Vikings used standard single-back and I-form sets. After that drive, they carried the ball 11 times and picked up 68 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and nearly all of them were out of some type of unique formation.

On this 2nd-and-16 rush, the VIkings put a tight end in the back field and sent him the opposite direction as the run play was headed. This appeared to be a run-pass option in which Bradford could also throw to Cordarrelle Patterson. There’s a case to be made that he should have thrown to Patterson, but the play still gained seven yards. Left tackle TJ Clemmings actually makes a nice block here on the defensive end.

When Jerick McKinnon has run up the middle this year (45 carries) he has gained 1.8 yards per carry. When he has gotten to the outside, the 24-year-old running back has 119 yards on 20 touches (5.9 YPC). The Wildcat formation has given him opportunities to find the edge. On this play, the fake hand-off to Adam Thielen causes the defensive end to bite and opens up the entire left side of the field. This play calls for the offensive line to sell the fake by blocking right and the running back (or tight end out of the backfield) to hit the end. Since the end bit hard, the tight end went looking for work down the field and helped McKinnon find a lane to the first down.

The biggest run play of the game was Patterson’s 22-yard run at the end of the third quarter. Again, selling the reverse starts with the offensive line. Focus on No. 76 Alex Boone as he pulls to the right and No. 85 Rhett Ellison steps up and hits the end. The Lions’ linebacker isn’t fooled, but Patterson cuts up field and a good block by guard Brandon Fusco opens up space.

The Vikings not only turned back the clock to ’08 with the Wildcat, they went even farther back by pulling out the Pro Set. With McKinnon and Asiata lined up on either side of Sam Bradford, the Vikings sell a pitch to McKinnon and hand Asiata the ball for a solid gain up the middle. Focus on Boone. He explodes out of his stance like he’s going to pull and No. 59 on the Lions buys the pitch. Backup center Nick Easton does a nice job of moving his man just far enough to open the gap.

By no means should we expect the Vikings to gain five yards per rush for the rest of the season, but Shurmur’s creativity may give Minnesota a chance to at least show opponents they can run. Then if Adrian Peterson returns, they can either continue to mix things up or go back to classic zone runs with their future Hall of Famer.

How will Adrian Peterson fit in the Vikings offense?

The post Creativity helped Vikings run game show signs of life appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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