The Minnesota Vikings have faced better running back tandems, but a recent leak against the run make slowing Miami’s ground tandem a priority on Sunday.
The Minnesota Vikings defense has made a turnaround in the past couple of months. After getting off to a rocky start, the Vikings have been able to hold opponents to under 300 yards of total offense in six of their past eight games.
Even in a Week 11 loss to the Chicago Bears, the Vikings were still able to slow down Matt Nagy’s attack, holding them to 308 yards.
On the surface, those are good numbers to have and ones that have put the Vikings fifth in total yardage allowed this season. Since their bye in Week 10, however, Minnesota has just one win in their past four games and they will be grasping at straws to get a win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
While many will pin the Vikings’ recent struggles on the offensive side of the ball and the firing of John DeFilippo, the defense has sprung a leak in an area where one would least expect.
In the past four games, Minnesota has allowed over 140 rushing yards three times. In that stretch, teams have gored Mike Zimmer’s defense to an average of 151 yards per game and they have been able to sustain drives and keep the Vikings’ offense off the field.
With that in mind, this week’s matchup nightmare isn’t so much about the players they’ll be facing, but more about Minnesota’s struggles to contain the run in recent weeks. As the Dolphins roll into U.S. Bank Stadium, they’ll do so with the 18th-ranked rushing offense and they will be relying on two backs who could represent different problems for the Vikings’ defense.
The flashier name here will be Kenyan Drake, who many expected to have a breakout season after a strong finish in 2017.
Those high expectations haven’t been met, but Drake has settled in as a solid change of pace back for the Miami offense. Despite his low total numbers on the season (102 carries, 463 yards, four rushing touchdowns), his 4.5 yards per carry this year isn’t far off from his 2017 clip of 4.8.
The 24-year old also has carved out a role in the Dolphins’ passing game. His numbers aren’t James White-esque, but with 41 catches for 366 yards and five touchdowns, he poses a threat through the air that could be a problem for a Minnesota linebacker unit that has underachieved this season.
White (seven catches, 92 yards) and Alvin Kamara (seven catches, 31 yards, one touchdown) benefitted from the Vikings’ linebackers struggling earlier in the season.
While Drake hasn’t gotten the bulk of the work on the ground, Frank Gore has been able to pick up the slack. Despite being 35-years-old, Gore has shown the resiliency of a cockroach in a nuclear war.
His stats haven’t been eye-popping (151 carries for 708 yards), but he’s been a steady grinder that has averaged 5.74 yards per carry in the past month and he has opened things up for Drake and the rag tag group of Dolphins receivers.
Gore and Drake won’t be the biggest challenge the Vikings will face this season, but they are capable enough of exploiting Minnesota’s recent lapse in run defense.
If the Vikings can slam the door shut on the Miami running game, they can then focus more on banged-up Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and try to get this season back on track.