EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It's startling -- nay, alarming -- that a team built around a MVP running back would be last in the NFL in time of possession. But that's where the Minnesota Vikings are in 2013, and in addition to their inability to take heat off their cast of quarterbacks on the ground, they're also failing to provide a break for a beleaguered defense and control games the way they did last year.
The Vikings are holding the ball for an average of just 25:50 per game, the worst figure in the NFL by 10 seconds (just behind the Eagles' "Blur" offense) and nearly three minutes less than the team's average of 28:44 last year. Minnesota was still 28th in the league in time of possession last year -- largely a product of an anemic passing game -- but the Vikings weren't quite as bad at getting off the field on third downs last year, and they weren't playing through as many defensive injuries as they are this year.
Offensive tackle Matt Kalil said on Thursday that the Vikings' problems running the ball are more about their linemen finishing blocks than anything else, though he did say the Vikings could stand to run the ball a little more. But, Kalil said, the film will show Adrian Peterson could have opportunities for big runs -- or drive-extending gains -- if linemen hold their blocks just a second longer.
The Vikings, oddly enough, are throwing the ball 14 times a game more than they're attempting to run it. Their average of 37 pass attempts per game is tied for 15th in the league -- just ahead of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers -- and their 23 runs a game are 23rd in the league. Last year, the Vikings averaged 30.38 attempts a game, the fourth-most in football, and seemed unafraid to pound Peterson into eight- or nine-man fronts, confident they could win those battles even if everyone knew what was coming.
"That has been our attitude in the past, that, 'You know what we’re going to do, now you have to stop it,' and it’s not working so well right now," coach Leslie Frazier said. "That doesn’t mean that we’re going to deviate from what we do best and what we believe we do best. We just have to do it better than what we’re doing. We have the best running back in the National Football League, we have to block better across the board, he has to stay true to the hole and when we have chances to make people pay in the passing game for being single-high, we have to do it."
Peterson ran for 409 yards in two regular-season games against the Packers last year, but he'll face a team on Sunday that's had a renewed commitment to stopping the run on defense, along with a greater devotion to running it. The Packers are third in the league against the run, allowing just 474 yards on the ground this season.
"It seems like they’ve always been aggressive with their fire zones and trying to get extra guys in the box, but they’re tackling better in the secondary and even at that second level with the linebackers," Frazier said. "B.J. Raji, their nose (tackle), he’s still a tough, tough player, very good player. But their secondary as a whole is tackling better and that’s probably helped their run defense."