The Minnesota Vikings have done many good things on defense through their first eight games. They’ve shut down opposing run games, entering Sunday’s games third in the NFL in yards per carry against. They’ve sacked and pressured opposing quarterbacks like crazy. They have also shut down opponents’ ability to use their running backs in the passing game.
According to Football Outsiders’ statistic DVOA, which adjusts yards by opponent and time of game, the Vikings are ninth best in the NFL at restricting opposing running backs’ receiving ability. Runners average just 39.6 yards receiving per game against the Vikings.
Those numbers have come against some of the better pass-catching backs:
New Orleans, Alvin Kamara
Average per game: 4.8 catches, 42.6 yards
Vs. Vikings: 4 catches, 20 yards
Pittsburgh, Le’Veon Bell
Average: 4.4 catches, 27.4 yards
Vs. Vikings: 4 catches, 4 yards
Detroit, Theo Riddick
Average: 3.6 catches, 29.1 yards
Vs. Vikings: 1 catch, 8 yards
Chicago, Tarik Cohen
Average: 3.5 catches, 29.9 yards
Vs. Vikings: 1 catch, -1 yards
Cleveland, Duke Johnson
Average: 4.5 catches, 40.5 yards
Vs. Vikings: 4 catches, 10 yards
The Vikings’ linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks have been at the center of shutting down runners in the passing game.
“It’s about being focused, knowing what back is in there, they have certain guys that they will do certain things with,” Barr said Monday. “Recognizing situations, who’s in the ballgame, recognizing alignment, sometimes they cheat when they’re trying to get out. It’s about being focused and playing together, trusting the guy next to you. That’s been working for us so far.”
This week the Vikings will face another challenge out of the backfield in running back Chris Thompson, who averages 4.4 catches per game and 56.6 yards. He’s gabbed 125 passes over the last three years – this season has been his best in yards per reception (12.9). Thompson is rated by Football Outsiders as the No. 1 receiving back in the NFL.
Last year the Vikings only allowed three catches for 11 yards to Thompson.
He isn’t the last good pass-catching running back the Vikings will face this year. Barr and Kendricks will be challenged by No. 7 ranked Christian McCaffrey, eighth ranked Toddy Gurley, No. 9 Tevin Coleman, 16th Giovoni Bernard. They’ll also face Cohen and Riddick again.