If someone is looking for a vital difference to the Vikings offense from 2012 to 2013 in the negative realm, perhaps no stat screams out louder than the Vikings struggles in breaking off long runs.
When Adrian Peterson ran for 2,097 last year, he did so largely on the strength of gaining yards in huge chunks. Last year, the Vikings had 46 carries of 15 yards or more – 39 from Peterson, four from Christian Ponder, two from Percy Harvin and one from Toby Gerhart.
This year through 14 games, the Vikings have just 21 carries of 15 or more yards – 13 from Peterson, five from Gerhart, two from Ponder and one from Cordarrelle Patterson.
Peterson admitted this week that a groin strain especially has impacted his level of explosiveness.
“It’s been affecting me, no doubt,” Peterson said. “It’s kind of been a nagging injury, unfortunately, but I’ve been doing what I can to rest it up, strengthen it, just to maintain it through the end of the season.”
While Peterson is still in the running for the league rushing title despite missing a game, to have one-third of his previous year’s total of explosive runs has been the result of multiple factors, including the ascent of Matt Cassel at quarterback. The offense has been more balanced with Cassel under center and, in the game he missed, Peterson saw how the Vikings could thrive as a passing team and not an old-school run-first offense.
“That’s one thing I was able to kind of take from the game,” Peterson said. “Sitting back and watching those guys go to work and just seeing how productive we were able to be offensively, making a lot of plays in the pass game and then you can just add me to that as well, and Toby. It will be a nice balance that you look for as an offense.”
As Peterson is expected to return, the Vikings will try to maintain more balance. It might come at the expense of big plays on the ground, but, as the Vikings try to throw a wrench in yet another team looking to make the playoffs, finding the balance between the Vikings’ long-held run-first approach and incorporating a suddenly improved passing game will be a challenge for head coach Leslie Frazier, who prefers to have such an option.
“You want to see Matt running our offense and have success running our offense with Adrian for sure,” Frazier said. “We expect Adrian to be out there and you want to see that happen. But, it’s really not part of my thought process or our thought process. We expect him to be able to play well with Adrian. He’s done that. It’s only been that one game last week that he wasn’t out there with Adrian. We’ve seen the two of them on the field together. We’ve seen the success with them on the field together. That Chicago game was a great example and how they function together, and Pittsburgh as well.”
As the Vikings move forward, having a quarterback that can take advantage when opponents flood eight or even nine men in the box will go a long way to determining how the Vikings approach the balance of their offense in the final two games of the season and in 2014 and beyond.
VIKINGS-BENGALS BY THE NUMBERS
The Vikings have the 13th-ranked offense (10th rushing, 22nd passing) and the 31st-ranked defense (20th rushing, 30th passing).
Cincinnati has the 10th-ranked offense (19th rushing, 12th passing) and the sixth-ranked defense (5th rushing, 7th passing).
The Vikings are averaging 354 yards a game (226 passing, 128 rushing). The Bengals are averaging 362 yards a game (251 passing, 111 rushing).
The Vikings are allowing 407 yards a game (291 passing, 116 rushing). Cincinnati is allowing 318 yards a game (219 passing, 99 rushing).
The Bengals are one of just two teams in the league that are ranked in the top 10 in both offense and defense, joining New Orleans, which is fifth on offense and defense.
Cincinnati’s defense is in the top nine in several categories, including total yards allowed, yards allowed per play, rushing yards, average per rush attempt, passing yards, average per pass attempt, first downs allowed, third-down defense, points allowed per game and opponent field goal percentage.
The Vikings defense is in the bottom 10 in just as many defensive categories, including total yards per game allowed, yards per play allowed, interception percentage, sacks allowed per pass play, first downs allowed, third-down defense, fourth-down defense, kick return average and points allowed per game.
The Vikings have allowed 425 points, 30.4 points a game. Only the Redskins (434) have allowed more points.
Cincinnati is 16th in takeaway/giveaway ratio at minus-1 (24 takeaways, 25 giveaways). The Vikings are 26th at minus-7 (19 takeaways, 26 giveaways).
Cincinnati is second in red zone offense, converting touchdowns on 72 percent of their opportunities (28 of 39). Minnesota is tied for 20th at 53 percent (24 of 45).
Defensively, Cincinnati is ninth in the red zone, allowing touchdowns on 17 of 32 possessions (53 percent). Minnesota is 22nd at 60 percent (34 touchdowns on 57 possessions).
The Bengals are 12th in third-down offense, converting on 77 of 198 opportunities (38.9 percent). The Vikings are 13th at 38.7 percent (75 of 194). The league average is 38.4 percent.
Cincinnati’s defense is seventh in allowing conversions on 34.8 percent (70 of 201). Minnesota is 31st at 44.1 percent (89 of 202).
The league average starting position following a kickoff is the 22.0-yard line. The Vikings are first in the league with an averaging start at the 26.8-yard line. Cincinnati is fifth with an average start at the 23.6-yard line.
Defensively, the Bengals are 21st in average starting position at the 22.2-yard line. Minnesota is 31st, allowing a starting average at the 24.9-yard line.
Andy Dalton has four 300-yard passing games. Matt Cassel got the first in more than a year for the Vikings last week.
Minnesota has allowed six 300-yard passers. Cincinnati has allowed two.
The Bengals have seven 100-receiving games – six from A.J. Green and one from Marvin Jones. The Vikings have four – two from Jerome Simpson and one each from Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson.
Three of the four 100-yard receiving games the Vikings have posted have come in the five games Cassel has played extensively.
The Vikings have allowed a league-worst 10 100-yard receiving games this season. The Bengals have allowed five.
Adrian Peterson has five 100-yard rushing games. The Bengals haven’t had one yet this season.
Minnesota has allowed three 100-yard rushers. Cincinnati has allowed two.
Dalton is ninth in pass attempts (512), 11th in completions (315), ninth in yards (3,649, sixth in touchdowns (27), 30th in interceptions (16) and 17th in passer rating (87.6).
Peterson is second in the league in rushing with 1,221 yards – 122 yards behind Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy and 21 yards ahead of third place Matt Forte. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is 22nd with 666 yards.
Green is sixth in the league in receptions with 87. Jennings leads the Vikings with 59 receptions, which ties him for 41st place.
Green is sixth in receiving yards with 1,268. Jennings is 43rd with 733 receiving yards.
Peterson is tied for seventh in scoring among non-kickers with 66 points (11 touchdowns). Jones leads the Bengals with 54 points (nine touchdowns).
Blair Walsh is eighth in scoring among kickers with 117 points. Mike Nugent of the Bengals is 26th with 90 points.
Peterson is ninth in total yards from scrimmage with 1,390 yards (1,221 rushing, 169 receiving). Green is 14th with 1,268 yards (all receiving).
Marcus Sherels is third in punt return average at 13.1 yards per return. Brandon Tate is 13th in punt return average at 9.4 yards, good for 13th in the league.
No player has called more fair catches than Sherels (24) and of those with enough returns to qualify for the league lead. Sherels is also tied for the least amount of returns (18).
Patterson leads the league in kickoff return average at 33.3 yards. Tate is eighth with an average of 26.8 yards per return.
The Bengals’ Adam Jones and the Vikings’ Chad Greenway each have three interceptions, which ties them for 22nd in the league.
Jared Allen and Brian Robison are both tied for 14th place in sacks with nine each. Wallace Gilberry leads the Bengals with 7.5 sacks, which ties him for 33rd place.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.