Vikings fullback C.J. Ham played a career-high 25 snaps Sunday in Atlanta, marking another step for the Duluth Denfeld product as a reliable member of the offense.
And he didn’t need many chances to move the chains. Ham took both of his touches for first downs.
“Every time you get one, you try to make a play,” Ham said. “Right away, it was a defensive battle and as we kept going on as an offense we got a little better and we were able to get the job done.”
Ham played a leading role in a Vikings offense that operated with multiple tight ends and backs at once. Setting lead blocks on Falcons linebackers eventually gave way to a 12-yard screen, breaking one tackle, followed by Ham charging through the line for a conversion on third-and-1.
The converted tailback was asked which play he preferred. “The 12-yard catch,” Ham said. “I haven’t had a screen pass since Week 3, so it was nice to get out there and run a little bit.”
The days of Jerome Felton lead blocking for Adrian Peterson out of the I-formation 30 snaps a game are long gone. Today’s NFL has more than a handful of versatile fullbacks, with Ham adding his name to the growing list.
“I thought he played well yesterday,” coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. “He caught a pass and made a guy miss and had a nice run. He gets on the right guy. He blocks. He’s a good athlete. He does a great job on special teams, so he’s improving a lot.”
Head honchos on third
The Vikings now have the NFL’s top third-down offense (46 percent) and third-down defense (27 percent) through 12 games. They haven’t finished with the league’s best third-down offense since the 2004 season. The Vikings defense hasn’t topped the league since at least prior to 1991, the first NFL season for which third down numbers are available.
“We’ve made a lot of plays,” Zimmer said of his offense. “I think part of it is the different options that we have. [Laquon] Treadwell had one yesterday. Jarius [Wright] had one yesterday. Sometimes it’s [Kyle] Rudolph.”
Looking to stay warm
The Vikings also hold the NFC’s No. 1 seed by virtue of the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Eagles. Wright wants the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, if only so the Vikings don’t need to play outside at Philadelphia in January. The Vikings’ last playoff game during the 2015 season was one of the coldest in NFL history, when temps dipped to minus-6 at TCF Bank Stadium.
“Very motivated to be indoors,” Wright said. “Anytime you can play indoors and take the weather out of the game, it’s a good thing.”
Strength in numbers
The Vikings secondary drew some high praise from Zimmer after they helped ground a Falcons offense accustomed to soaring. Safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo made “outstanding” plays, Zimmer said, defending the run and pass. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes manned up Julio Jones, limiting the All-Pro to two catches. And the secondary’s sixth man, Mackensie Alexander, had a pass deflection of his own.
“Really honestly, he is still learning the position,” Zimmer said. “He’ll have moments where he’ll not do what he’s supposed to do all the way. But he’s getting a lot better with it.”
Vikings right tackle Rashod Hill, who started for the fourth week in a row in place of the injured Mike Remmers, needed X-rays for his right hand after the game, but they were negative, according to a source. Hill played all 66 snaps against the Falcons and is expected to be ready for this week.
Tight end David Morgan is in the concussion protocol after colliding with a Falcons cornerback on the first snap of the game. Morgan was feeling “a lot better” on Monday, Zimmer said.