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.