There has been no shortage of heroes on the Minnesota Vikings’ roster during their eight-game winning streak, but one player who has seemingly flown under the radar is running back Latavius Murray.
After a slow start to the season, the 2015 Pro Bowler has been one of the NFL’s top running backs. Over the past six games, he’s averaged 79 yards per game at 4.5 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns.
The only running backs with more yards during that time are Mark Ingram, Le’Veon Bell and LeSean McCoy. Only Ingram and teammate Alvin Kamara have more touchdowns since Week 7.
While the Vikings’ offensive line has played a huge role in the success of the Vikings’ running game, Murray has been tough to take down when defenders get a hand on him. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound back ranks third in the NFL in yards after contact over his last six contests.
He’s been effective as a home run hitter and a ground-and-pound finisher. Murray has picked up runs of at least 30 yards in three straight games. He’s also averaging 5.1 yards per carry when the Vikings have been ahead in games.
Against the Falcons, it’s easy to forget that the Vikings closed the game on back-to-back Murray runs that took away any shot Atlanta would have at a comeback. With 3:10 remaining and everyone in the building aware Murray was going to run, he slammed up the middle for eight yards, then gained a first down on the next play to seal the win.
One of the reasons the Vikings wanted Murray was to pick up big first downs in short yardage situations. Over the last six games, he has 12 first downs and two touchdowns on 21 carries with fewer than three yards to go and no runner has carried the ball more in short yardage than Murray.
His effectiveness has been key for the Vikings’ highly-praised third down attack. It’s certainly been good, but one of the reasons the Vikings are at the top on third down is because they have the third fewest third downs with six or more yards to go.
And when they’ve had third-and-long situations, they Vikings have been very poor. Case Keenum averages just 5.8 yards per attempt on third down with more than six yards to go, which is second worst in the NFL. But 25 quarterbacks have been asked to throw on third-and-long more than Keenum.
It’s also been discussed at length Keenum’s ability to avoid sacks and the offensive line’s pass protection proficiency. Murray has played a subtly good role in protection. He’s given up one hurry all year – and that was way back in Week 4.
While Murray has taken over the top running back duties, Jerick McKinnon has maintained an effective role in the passing game – just how the Vikings planned it in the offseason before drafting Dalvin Cook. McKinnon has 23 receptions on 30 targets for 168 yards since Week 7 – and he added a touchdown catch against the Falcons.
Since Cook went down, Murray has been everything the Vikings were hoping for in a top back – he’s even shown some improvement in his patience, several times waiting for holes to open up in the Falcons’ front seven before taking off. His contribution shouldn’t be overlooked when we break down why the Vikings have won eight games in a row.