Monday, December 10, 2007

Running Issues

One of the confounding results in the Minnesota Vikings' 27-7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday was how a Minnesota team, averaging nearly 180 yards rushing per game entering the game, could finish the game with 116 yards rushing? Take away the 80-yard rumble by Chester Taylor and the Vikings had a meager 36 yards rushing for the game, three for Adrian Peterson on 14 carries.

As spectators left scratching their heads, two explanations were offered. The most common refrain was that the Vikings simply were up against one of the league's better run-stopping defenses. That explanation clearly is inadequate, however, as the 49ers rank in the bottom six of NFL teams in stopping the run, allowing 123.5 yards per game on average--seemingly fertile ground upon which the number one rushing offense should flourish.

The other explanation was that the 49ers sold out against the run, giving up the passing lanes. That explanation appears more plausible, but not entirely satisfactory. While the 49ers clearly cheated up with their corners and focused on Peterson, on several Vikings' offensive downs on which the play was not dictated by down and distance, they did not. On those plays, the 49ers blanketed the Vikings receivers, forcing Jackson, who had received ample time in the pocket, to scramble.

That suggests strong overall defense by the 49ers, rather than a defensive scheme that sold out against the run.

There are two other explanations for the Vikings' atypically average rushing performance on Sunday. The first, an old nemesis, is that the Vikings simply are continuing to have problems on the right side of the line.

Of the Vikings' 23 running plays by either Chester Taylor or Adrian Peterson on Sunday, seven went to the left, ten went up the middle, and six went to the right. Taylor gained 97 of his rushing yards running to the left, 4 running up the middle, and 11 running outside of the right tackle. Peterson gained -1 yard on three carries to the left, 8 yards on six carries up the middle, and -4 yards on five carries to the right.

While the numbers look bad across the board, with the exception of Taylor's 80-yard touchdown run to the left and his 11-yard scamper around the right end, it is telling that the Vikings ran only five plays behind the right guard and right tackle and that four of those five plays resulted in negative or zero yardage.

The problem thus appears to be two-fold for the Vikings with respect to executing running plays. The first is that the team's coaches still lack confidence in the right side of the line, calling plays to the right only in the hope of forcing the defense to at least respect runs to the right.

The other is that, when called upon to provide run support, the right side of the line still has problems. Had the Vikings been up against Pittsburgh's or Green Bay's rushing defense, that might have been more understandable, but against the 49ers' defense, it is not.

Up Next: A Second Explanation.

13 comments:

Ryan said...

VG,

I agree that the Vikings struggled to run block effectively on Sunday. I do believe that the right side of the line is a weakness. (Specifically, converted center Ryan Cook.)

I still believe that the 49ers are a strong defense stuck with a totally pathetic offense. But, I wanted to point out that the statement suggesting that the 49ers have a poor rush defense is somewhat incorrect.

The 49ers are among the bottom six teams in the entire NFL for yards allowed per game. However, you'll notice that there are only two teams with more rush attempts against their defense (Jets, Dolphins). Personally, I believe that this illustrates that the 49ers generally get behind early and opposing teams simply run the ball to control the game. (This would be easy to believe, considering the team's poor offensive performance.)

Also, you'll notice that the 49ers are right around the middle of the pack for rush allowed rushes greater than twenty and forty yards. (I think that these plays are a core part of the Vikings explosive run attack.)

I'm not arguing that the Vikings were perfect or anything, because they were far from it. We need to consistently block the run well, and our special teams need to improve. I'm just trying to point out that there probably is not one reason alone for the general lack of rushing success on Sunday. It very well could be a combination of several things. (Poor run blocking, solid defense, etc.)

Just trying to put another point of view out there. Keep up the good work!

J. Lichty said...

I didn't have a chance to watch the game on Sunday, but perhaps my tortured existence as a Michigan fan who watched his team struggle to run against otherwise wretched run defenses of NW, Mich State and Wisc. is that sometimes the problem is schematic.

I know the Vikes have been using a zone stretch philosphy this year. That scheme is fairly easy to defeat if no misdirection is used. A defense merely has to slant to the gaps in the direction the play is going, forcing the Oline to caught up in the first level and having to come accross too many bodies to create engagement with the defenders on that level.

For example, it will be difficult for Birk to block a defender on a running play left if all of the defenders are shooting gaps to the left of the olinemen. In short, Birk has to be faster to the spot against a player with a head start. I saw this time and time again with Michigan, and only some great elusiveness in the backfield from Mike Hart made the numbers look respectable.

The way to defeat this slanting/cheeating is misdirection. Counters and play action kill a slanting defense and allow for a lot of yards away from the slant - something Michgan refused to do.

I am saying this only as a way that the zone stretch gets easily defeated, and not based upon anything that actually happened on Sunday - it is just something to look for when watching the game.

Peter said...

j. litchy,

I completely agree. The best runs to the right will happen when the entire O-line pushes left and a lone WR (or two) on the right provide the only blocking. I suppose FB Tony Rishardson or TE Kleinsasser could be put into motion to help block as well, but the point is to get the whole defense to move left, which shouldn't be tough considering who the C, LG and LT are.

SL__72 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SL__72 said...

I don't know that I agree about the right side being the problem. Cook certainly isn't capable of dominating defenders the way McKinnie can, but from what I've seen he also doesn't get "beaten" as often as McKinnie. Coming into the game, here is how the Vikings rushing has faired as measured by adjusted line yards and their rank):

Left End: 4.38 (13th)
Left Tackle: 4.09 (22nd)
Mid/Guard: 4.69 (3rd)
Right Tackle: 3.91 (22nd)
Right End: 3.99 (19th)

Here are where the RBs are going:
LE: 15%
LT: 12%
MG: 52%
RT: 8%
RE: 12%

While the right side is slightly worse, it isn't bad enough to be "the" problem. When I was watching I thought it just looked like they weren't playing very well as a group. It looked like maybe they kind of just took the day off...

Cabrito said...

This is an interesting thread you've initiated, VG. Like most Vikings fans, I'm very curious as to why our running attack fell flat last Sunday. I welcome the explanations offered by you and other bloggers. But please don't keep us in suspense any longer! What is the other explanation you've teased us with?

Rastak said...

Well, I've read in more than a couple places that the 49ers did sell out against the run with corner blitzes denying the Vikings the edge and shutting down the run game. Also, the Vikings seemed to telegraph when they would run by sending Peterson in on almost exclusivly running plays. That last point concerns me but what also concerns me is why Jackson didn't rack up 300 yards if they were blitzing one or two conrners every play.

Vikes Geek said...

Lichty,

For those who believe that the Vikings' offense has arrived, the point is instructive. For large stretches of last season and this season, Childress was enamored with misdirection and delay plays--particularly plays that called for a dump off behind the line of scrimmage. Against the Lions, the Vikings did a better job integrating different plays into the offensive scheme. More on how that played out versus SF in the next column.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

SL,

Nice numbers. I agree that, absent the the long Chester Taylor run on Sunday, the left side was not much better on running plays than the right side of the offensive line. What your season-long numbers indicate is that the Vikings' best option is to run behind Hutchinson and Birk. It does not surprise me in the least that McKinnie's numbers are low.

There should be three more statistics on your list. One for runs around the left end, one for runs around the right end, and one for runs by the quarterback. The Vikings tend to do well on runs around the right end, with Kleinsasser leading the way. It seems to be less the case around left end (save for one play on Sunday), where the Vikings generally appear to go without a blocking tight end to lead the way. Jackson also seems to do well on keepers around the right end.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

Cabrito,

Patience grasshopper.

I predict a column in the next 24 hours.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

Rastak,

Your latter point is well taken.

VG

SL__72 said...

VG,

Those numbers do include runs to the outside but are _only_ runs by RBs, QB rushes aren't included.

Left/right end means outside to the left right.

Left/right tackle means "off tackle" type runs.

Mid/guard actually means between the guards.

Since they charted without knowing playcalls, its almost impossible to tell exactly where the RB was "supposed" to go.

http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/ol.php

Awaiting your other explanation, because I'm not terribly satisfied with mine.

Peter said...

"Jackson also seems to do well on keepers around the right end."

That's because he's right-handed and already facing in the best direction to take off running that way.

I'm also excited for the alternate explanation!