The Minnesota Vikings' Offense Has Remained Productive Despite Major Injuries

While losing their starting quarterback and running back to injury wasn't ideal, the Minnesota Vikings have continued finding ways to win.

The Minnesota Vikings are in control of their destiny right now, but it sure hasn't been easy.

Since a blistering start to the season with a tremendous Week 1 performance, quarterback Sam Bradford has missed all but a half of football with a knee injury that could potentially threaten to end his career. And as if that wasn't bad enough already for the offense, breakout rookie running back Dalvin Cook's season ended prematurely in Week 4 because of a torn ACL.

These issues are enough to torpedo any team's playoff hopes and dreams, but the Vikings' offense has persevered -- they're heading into a Week 9 bye with the NFC's second-best record (6-2), the league's fourth-best offense in terms of yards, and are currently settled into seventh place in our power rankings.

How have they managed this?

The Ground Game

Adrian Peterson isn't donning the purple and gold anymore, but the Vikings' rushing attack has been quite productive in spurts this year. Their 970 rushing yards as a unit rank seventh-best in the league, which is impressive since Cook hasn't been in the mix for a month now, leaving the work to Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray.

On a per-play basis, though, it's apparent that these two don't run the ball particularly well. Using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, we can see that McKinnon and Murray are among the least efficient players at their position. The below table compares the Vikings' three main rushers and how their advanced metrics stack up with other running backs who have collected 70-plus carries (a group of 30 players).

It's also worth noting that Success Rate is the percentage of runs that positively impact NEP.

Player Attempts Rushing NEP per Play Lg Avg Rank Success Rate Lg Avg Rank
Jerrick McKinnon 70 -0.21 -0.05 30th 41.43% 38.19% 10th
Latavius Murray 78 -0.20 -0.05 27th 29.49% 38.19% 30th
Dalvin Cook 74 0.04 -0.05 5th 43.24% 38.19% 6th

Put simply, McKinnon and Murray are costing Minnesota points every time they tote the rock, with Cook being the only one on the positive end. When looking at Rushing Success Rate, Cook and McKinnon are both above the league average, but Murray is among the worst.

The Passing Game

Since Bradford lit up the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, Case Keenum has played the majority of snaps at quarterback. While he hasn’t been incredible, he actually hasn’t been all that bad. In fact, he ranks slightly above average among the 29 quarterbacks who have dropped back at least 200 times.

Player Drop Backs Passing NEP Per Play Lg Avg Rank Success Rate Lg Avg Rank
Case Keenum 238 0.14 0.09 11th 47.48% 45.70% 13th

Keenum's main weapons at wide receiver are Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, who are both enjoying solid statistical seasons.

Diggs has caught 48 passes for 422 yards and 4 touchdowns, while Thielen has accumulated 628 receiving yards and has caught at least five balls in every game he's played. If we look a little closer, though, we can see that one of these players is far more efficient. Among the 45 wide receivers with at least 40 targets, here's how these two pass-catchers stack up.

Player Targets Receptions Reception NEP per target Lg Avg Rank Success Rate Rank
Stefon Diggs 42 27 0.96 0.67 1st 85.19% 23rd
Adam Thielen 75 48 0.60 0.67 33rd 75.00% 41st

Another weapon in the passing game is tight end Kyle Rudolph. Among the 22 players at this position with 30-plus targets, Rudolph has been an above-average player.

Player Targets Receptions Reception NEP per target Lg Avg Rank Success Rate Rank
Kyle Rudolph 47 32 0.56 0.57 10th 81.25% 8th

This part of Minnesota's offense get a lot of the attention -- and rightfully so -- but there's another area that's been an asset.

The Kicking Game

Kai Forbath's 22 field goal attempts this season are the second-most in the NFL, and he's converted 21 of them. Obviously, not every field goal attempt is equal, so it's important to look at some advanced metrics with regard to how valuable he's been to the Vikings. His ranking below is based off the 19 kickers with at least 15 attempts this season.

Player FGA FG Field Goal NEP Per Play Lg Avg Rank
Kai Forbath 22 21 0.69 0.43 5th

These numbers show us he's among the better-performing kickers so far in 2017, and of the four players ahead of him in Field Goal NEP per play, all but one has attempted fewer kicks. So, he's proven to be a model of consistency, helping the Vikings still put up points even when they're unable to reach the end zone.


How is the ground game still contributing to the Vikings' success? Volume. Minnesota owns the NFL's 10th-lowest pass-to-run ratio (1.20). Despite McKinnon and Murray mostly being inefficient, they are given ample opportunity to make an impact -- it just doesn’t produce that many points when we look at it on a per-play basis.

The numbers show they're much more efficient when putting the ball in the air, even with Keenum leading the way while Bradford is sidelined. In order to keep this success going, players like Diggs and Rudolph must continue their current form. It'll be important to get Diggs healthy, who has been battling a groin injury that forced him to miss two games before returning in Week 8.

Having a bye week will only help him get closer to 100% again, as he'll be a crucial piece of a team that has playoff aspirations heading into the second half of their schedule -- our metrics currently give them an 81.5% chance of making the playoffs, the seventh-best odds in the league.