Quarterback Sam Bradford believes he could help get the Vikings running game on track.
They are unbeaten despite a sputtering offense that has particularly failed on the ground. Through three games, half with Adrian Peterson in the backfield, the Vikings are among the NFL’s worst in every rushing category and are just one of two offenses to not record a rushing touchdown.
“When we’re balanced, we’re at our best,” Bradford said Thursday. “I’m sure as I get more comfortable with the pass game, but not only that, the run game in general, I’d imagine the coaches might start giving me some more checks, more on my plate to try and help things.”
Jerick McKinnon stepped into the lead role against a stingy Panthers defense Sunday and gained 45 yards on 16 carries, taking his biggest gain between right guard and right tackle for a 14-yard scamper — the Vikings’ longest run of the season, which is also the lowest in the NFL.
Bradford, in his seventh NFL season, thinks he could shoulder more responsibility at the line of scrimmage. Head coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t bullish on that being the ultimate fix, pointing to other factors while admitting “we made a couple wrong calls.”
“We did some last week, too,” Zimmer said of Bradford handling pre-snap checks.
Bradford said he hopes he’ll gain more trust from the coaching staff with time in the offense. This Saturday will mark his fourth week since the early-morning trade that sent him from Philadelphia to Minnesota just days before the regular-season opener.
“I definitely think it can help. As far as how much, I don’t know, we’d have to see,” Bradford said. “I think getting in the right play is half the battle. Then we have to go and execute.”
A three-headed opponent
While Eli Manning historically struggles against the Vikings, he’s entering U.S. Bank Stadium on Monday night completing a league-best 71 percent of his throws.
The Vikings held Panthers quarterback Cam Newton down last week with three interceptions and prevented his top target, Kelvin Benjamin, from catching a pass. They see a different challenge in the Giants offense, which features a smaller, shiftier star in receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
“And the fact that there’s three of them,” Vikings safety Harrison Smith said. “You can’t devote your attention to one of them, because all of them can make plays and Eli can get it to them.”
Beckham Jr. is joined by receivers Victor Cruz and rookie standout Sterling Shepard. The trio has combined for 708 receiving yards and three touchdowns in three games.
Rudolph getting looks
The Vikings passing game has gotten off the ground a little bit with Bradford, who has often settled on two targets in his early tenure.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph is one. In his sixth NFL season, Rudolph is on pace to set career highs in receiving yards and targets, and he’s tied with receiver Stefon Diggs for the most looks (18) from their new quarterback through two starts.
“Kyle has a good catch radius, he’s been doing a good job of getting open,” Zimmer said. “I’m sure he’ll start drawing more attention.”
Boone not practicing
Alex Boone was unable to practice Thursday because of a hip injury that forced him to leave Sunday’s win in Carolina. Jeremiah Sirles continued to fill in at left guard during practice.
Zimmer said he needs to see Boone practice to make a proper evaluation of his availability for Monday night. That will have to wait until Friday at least, if he’s able to return.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee), fullback Zach Line (knee) and tight end David Morgan (knee) were also held out of practice.