When assessing what went wrong for the 2016 Vikings, don’t overlook a nonexistent run game.
Adrian Peterson’s 1.6 yards per carry on 31 attempts before his injury foreshadowed the long road ahead for the Vikings rushing attack, which is on track to end as the second-worst in franchise history and one of the most inefficient ever in the NFL. Only the 1978 Vikings team (3.0) had a worse ground game.
The Vikings enter Sunday’s season finale averaging 3.1 yards per carry as a team. They’re one of just four offenses to not have had a 100-yard rusher all season, joining the Giants, Lions and Rams. And they’ve eclipsed 100 rushing yards just once as a team — in the Week 4 win against the Giants.
It’s been an anchor all season for the Vikings’ 30th-ranked offense and a weakness that has contributed to their 2-8 slide into missing the playoffs. Running back Jerick McKinnon currently leads the Vikings with 450 rushing yards on 143 attempts.
“It improved throughout the season, but we never really got it going,” McKinnon said. “There’s been ups and downs this whole season and I think us not being able to run the ball like we’d like to kind of hurt us.”
Injuries to offensive line and tight end positions have further limited the Peterson-less offense. Their struggles have reached a historical low as the Vikings would join just 27 other NFL offenses (since 1961) that averaged 3.1 rushing yards or fewer throughout a season.
An inability to punch the ball in at the goal line has been at the forefront of the Vikings’ red zone issues. They’ve fallen to 30th in touchdowns per red zone drive, according to Football Outsiders, which is down from 25th a season ago.
Though overall, the Vikings have leaned away from the running game under interim coordinator Pat Shurmur, who took over when Norv Turner quit in October. They’ve instead looked to quarterback Sam Bradford to create with a quick and shallow passing offense, effectively countering their own patchwork offensive line.
McKinnon, the Vikings’ backfield leader in a split with Matt Asiata, has 37 carries in the last four games for 3.6 yards per attempt. They’ve trailed by double digits at halftime in each of the last two losses.
“It’s kind of hard to run the ball when you get behind,” McKinnon said. “It’s kind of hard to run the ball in certain situations, makes it hard on the play caller. A lot of situations in the second half of the season we’ve been playing catch-up.”