The Minnesota Vikings run game struggled mightily against the Chicago Bears, amassing 22 yards and 1.6 yards per carry.
A double-digit deficit that forced them to throw throughout the second half reduced their number of opportunities on the ground, but they were also missing a key blocker that has been a catalyst in the run game in the past: tight end David Morgan.
The third-year tight end hurt his knee before the bye week against the Detroit Lions and is reportedly day-to-day as he recovers. He was the league’s top run-blocking tight end last year, according to Pro Football Focus.
With Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Conklin taking on the primary blocking duties against Chicago, the Vikings had a tough time keeping Bears out of the backfield, particularly Akiem Hicks and Leonard Floyd.
In the video below, you can see six plays in which a tight end was overpowered to contribute to a loss or minimal gain by Dalvin Cook. Considering that Vikings running backs only carried the ball 13 times, that’s a high percentage of poorly executed plays.
Among those plays was a 2nd and 2 on the game’s first drive on which the Vikings ended up going three and out. Four of the plays occurred on 1st and 10, putting the Vikings off schedule and further reducing their opportunities to run the ball. One of the 1st and 10 losses resulted in Cook’s fumble, where Khalil Mack navigated through Rudolph’s block to strip and recovery the football.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said Monday he’d like to see the Vikings be more persistent in the run game, even if they struggle early on.
“I think we need to be more efficient in running the football,” he said. “I do think that there’s times that we need to stick with it a little bit more, but I understand. It gets frustrating. You’re trying to run the ball and you get a minus one, then you tend to go to something where you can get some yards. That leads to third downs usually, and you try it again and you get two yards. It’s like they used to say, could be one, one, one, then 15 [yards]. But you got to keep at it.”
Rudolph, the Vikings’ top pass-catching tight end, hasn’t been known for his blocking prowess in the past. He was ranked 110th last year by PFF and is 112th this season. Conklin was brought in through this year’s draft to essentially be a Morgan 2.0 as a blocker but did not see a significant rise in snaps against the Bears, playing just nine on Sunday.
Zimmer said Friday that he liked Conklin’s work so far, even though he has only participated in 12 percent of snaps.
“He has done pretty well,” said Zimmer. “He has done a good job in both areas, protection and blocking and routes.”
If Morgan’s knee doesn’t allow him to play against the Packers and beyond, the Vikings will need more from Rudolph and Conklin and may give more reps to fullback C.J. Ham, who got just three snaps against the Bears.
The running game had shown signs of life before the bye week, but it took a step back without a key piece in Morgan.
“We just try to do our part. Sometimes we’re at the point of attack,” said Rudolph back in Week 8. “We take pride in it, but that’s our job. If we weren’t doing our job, I’d hear about it on Monday from Zim, and that’s not what I want to be doing.”