Not much went right for the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday at Ford Field. The defense was leaky again, there was an untimely turnover, and Kevin O’Connell was overthinking. Possibly most impactful on the ultimate result, however, was Minnesota’s complete inability to run the football. Although coaches and players alike would not make excuses, the lack of production has to be greatly attributed to the absences of Garrett Bradbury and Christian Darrisaw.
Going against a Detroit Lions defense that had allowed 149.7 rushing yards per game, the Dalvin Cook-led rushing attack gained only 22 yards on 17 carries. Of the 17 carries, 7 went for no gain or negative yardage.
The Missing Links
After playing without two of their starters on the offensive line, Cook and O’Connell stressed the importance of communication between the front five. The head coach was candid about the unit’s struggles when asked about the negative plays.
“Missing 40% of your original starters on the offensive line, there’s going to be some communication and maybe some details of how we’re getting to the second level … Coming off your combinations in a timely manner to where we can we get some of those runs started.”
Playing without any two starters on the offensive line hurts, especially when they have been among the league’s best in run blocking this season. Darrisaw has turned in an 87.2 PFF run-blocking grade this season, good for second-best at his position in the NFL. Bradbury, although not on Darrisaw’s level, has performed reasonably well and ranks 11th among centers with 72.4. Their replacements for Week 14, Blake Brandel and Austin Schlottman, have 61.2 and 61.7 grades for the year. The Brandel-Schlottman substitute is quite literally a downgrade.
Playing Complementary Football
“Complementary football” is a phrase often used to describe the marriage between different phases of a football game that leads to success. For the 2022 Vikings, said marriage between the run and pass, on offense, has been vital and indicative of the team’s success. In their 10 wins, Minnesota has averaged 108.6 rushing yards per game while only 52.3 in losses.
Similar to how Minnesota married the run and pass masterfully in their Week 8 win over Arizona, they will need to employ a much more effective ground game on Saturday when the Colts bring their 3rd-ranked pass defense to town. This effort will receive a boon with at least Darrisaw set to return.
Darrisaw has missed parts of 5 games now with concussions. In the games where Darrisaw starts and finishes, Minnesota gains 102 rushing yards per game and is 7-1. In all others, Cook and Co. manage only 85.4 yards per game and own a 3-2 record. CD’s presence alone will significantly boost the side of the marriage that is not holding up its end of the bargain.
A Budding Star
O’Connell wasn’t shy when asked what a Darrisaw return would mean to the running game: “I wasn’t making it up when I told you early on that I thought he [Darrisaw] had a chance to be a premier player at his position. [His return] should help us for sure.”
Minnesota will count on Darrisaw to not only contribute in the run game in Week 15 but stay healthy for the stretch run. Brandel was placed on Injured Reserve with the torn MCL he suffered in Sunday’s loss, shelving Darrisaw’s LT replacement for at least the remainder of the regular season. Oli Udoh, who spelled Brandel on Sunday, would likely be the next man up.
Despite Sunday’s humbling loss, the Vikings locker room continues to stay upbeat with another short week ahead to make amends for their past sins. A win on Saturday at noon over Jeff Saturday’s Colts would net Minnesota its first NFC North title since 2017 and can put all talks of “t-shirts and hats” to bed. Welcoming their star tackle back into the fold will most certainly help.
Notes: Statistics were sourced from Pro Football Reference.
Will is a husband, father of two, and earned an undergraduate degree in Economics (just like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah). Will’s favorite pastimes are water skiing, Minnesota sports, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. He is the co-host of the Load the Box Vikings Podcast with Jordan Hawthorn. Follow him on Twitter (@willbadlose) and find his other sports content at Twins Daily and his very own Bad Loser Blog.