Vikings need to come up big vs. Packers
In the NFL, every team possesses a certain degree of offensive explosiveness.
For much of this season, the Minnesota Vikings have been operating with a wet fuse.
The Vikings rank last in field-stretching offensive plays. They will need a few big ones in their final two games (Packers and Bears) just to ensure their total reaches half of what it was last season.
The Packers might not be convinced of Minnesota’s shortcomings. Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs caught nine passes for 182 yards and a touchdown against them in Week 2.
Diggs had receptions of 44 and 46 yards. He reached the end zone on a 25-yard strike to close out the Vikings’ scoring in their 17-14 win.
It's the only time Minnesota has had a player catch three passes of 25 or more yards in a game this season. The 46-yarder remains the team’s longest play from scrimmage.
Sportingcharts.com is a website loaded with statistics. Since 2009 it has tracked big plays: runs of 10 or more yards and pass receptions of 25 or more yards.
This season, the Cowboys head that list with 87. The Vikings are last with 43.
Minnesota isn’t too far from the norm in the passing department. It has completed 24 big passes, a total equal to or greater than that of a dozen other teams.
Even the Packers, with 28 long completions, haven’t outdistanced their rivals by much.
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Where the Vikings come up short is in the running game. They have a league-low 19 big runs, five fewer than the Rams, who rank last in total offense.
Even Green Bay, with the challenges it has faced in the running game, has more than twice as many runs (45) of 10-plus yards as the Vikings.
This deficiency has to be concerning. For years, Minnesota paved the way.
From 2007, Adrian Peterson’s rookie year, through last season, the Vikings piled up a league-best 568 runs of 10 or more yards. Only three other teams — the Panthers (552), Eagles (531) and Seahawks (506) — exceeded 500.
A year ago, Minnesota had 64 big runs. It had 75 and 74 in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
No team this century has finished with fewer than 20 runs of 10-plus yards. The Vikings have an outside chance of becoming the first if they fail to record one more.
Last season, the Vikings produced 91 big plays. That’s more than twice their total (43) through 14 games this season.
Minnesota’s drop in big plays (minus-48) has itself been big. No other team can claim a decline of more than 33.
The loss of Peterson has been huge. Jerick McKinnon (7) and Matt Asiata (5) lead the team with a combined 12 runs of 10 or more yards.
Last year alone, Peterson had 43.
Asiata has the Vikings’ longest run at 29 yards. Only twice in 55 previous seasons — 1970 (23) and 1978 (22) — has the team failed to log at least one run of 30 or more yards.
Minnesota’s deficiency in stretching the field is reflected in its average gain per offensive play. The Vikings (4.85) rank 30th, ahead of only the Rams (4.61) and Texans (4.78).
Even the most plodding of teams breaks out once in a while. Los Angeles, Houston and 29 others all have averaged better than six yards a play at least once in 2016.
Not the Vikings. They came tantalizingly close (5.99) in a 25-16 win at Jacksonville on Dec. 11.
Not surprisingly, Minnesota reeled off a season-high six big plays against the Jaguars. Even quarterback Sam Bradford got into the act with a run of 15.
The Vikings’ lack of big plays is never more glaring than on third down. Just eight of their 43 long gainers (18.6 percent) have come with the chains in need of being moved.
Minnesota ranks 31st in average gain per play on that down. At 4.44, their average is ahead of only the 49ers (4.35).
So how often do the Packers give up big plays? How many more will the Vikings add to their total?
Green Bay couldn’t be more middle of the pack in this regard. They are tied with the Falcons for 16th place, having surrendered 63 big plays (33 runs, 30 passes).
Over the years, Minnesota has averaged 4½ long gainers in games against the Packers. Look for a similar number Sunday at Lambeau Field.
sportingcharts.com, pro-football-reference.com and nflgsis.com served as references for this article.
Green Bay has held the Vikings without a big play four times in the regular season, most recently Oct. 20, 1994. On that day, Terry Allen, Warren Moon and Robert Smith never traveled more than 5 yards on the ground and Jake Reed’s 23-yard reception was the team’s longest in its 13-10 overtime win.
Overall: Green Bay leads 58-50-2
At Lambeau Field: Packers lead 21-17-2
Packers: Aaron Rodgers (88-45 overall; 10-6 vs. Minnesota)
Vikings: Sam Bradford (31-44-1; 1-2 vs. Green Bay)
Teams with the fewest big plays; that is, runs of 10 or more yards and pass completions of 25 or more yards.
No. R-P Team
43 19-24 Vikings
50 24-26 Rams
50 35-15 Jaguars
51 25-26 Giants
51 28-23 Buccaneers