The Minnesota Vikings are wasting a valuable opportunity to create the greatest one-two rushing attack in the NFL. Fourth-year running back Toby Gerhart is on pace for his fewest carries in a season with only 19 attempts in 11 games.
On Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings were finally able to unleash the two-back attack many people envisioned when they drafted Gerhart in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft.
At first glance, it might have seemed to be a puzzling move to select Gerhart with the 51st pick overall. The Vikings already had a franchise running back in Adrian Peterson, who was averaging 1,495 yards and 13 touchdowns a season, having led the NFL in each category in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
In his senior year at Stanford, Gerhart led the nation in 2009 with 28 rushing touchdowns. He finished four years at Stanford with 3,522 yards and 44 touchdowns. That included his sophomore season when he only got 12 carries due to a knee injury that limited him to one game.
Gerhart was the fourth running back selected in 2010. The following table contains a comparison of the top five running backs taken in 2010.
|The 2010 Running Back Draft Class|
|Ryan Matthews||San Diego||1-12||49||728||3,197||17|
|Pro Football Reference|
Heading into Week 13, Ryan Mathews and Ben Tate are leading their teams in rushing. C.J. Spiller and Gerhart are second for their teams, and Jahvid Best, due to concussion issues, is currently not playing.
In 2009, Gerhart finished second in the Heisman voting to fellow running back Mark Ingram. Ingram was drafted in the first round by the New Orleans Saints in 2011.
Fast forward to 2013. Ingram has gotten more opportunities to be the more productive back, as both are the second-leading rushers for their respective teams.
|Toby Gerhart: Finishing Second to Mark Ingram|
|Mark Ingram||2011||1 -28||32||328||1,328||4.0||11|
|Pro Football Reference|
Against the Packers, Gerhart carried the ball a season-high eight times. It was only the sixth game this season he carried the ball. He made the most of his opportunity, gaining 91 yards. The Vikings should find a way to utilize him more in their offense without diminishing Peterson's role. There has to be some way to have both players on the field at the same time.
Here's a look at the contributions from both players since Gerhart joined the Vikings in 2010.
|Minnesota Vikings Running Backs 2010 - 2013|
This season, Gerhart is averaging a gaudy 9.8 yards per carry; the unfortunate part of this is that he only has 19 carries. In a season that Peterson is averaging 4.41 yards per carry—only his 2009 season was lower at 4.40 yards per carry—the Vikings need to utilize Gerhart more.
Running behind the same offensive line against the Packers, Gerhart was more successful than Peterson. Perhaps that was because by the time Gerhart first touched the ball in the second half, Peterson had softened up the Packer defense.
Here's a look at Gerhart's first carry in the game, late in the third quarter.
The Vikings use a two-wide receiver formation. As usual on most Vikings' running plays, they motion the wide receiver towards the line.
As the play develops, left guard Charlie Johnson blocks toward center John Sullivan. Gerhart follows fullback Jerome Felton into the gap left where Johnson was.
Felton takes care of the linebacker, leaving a gaping hole for Gerhart to run through. The only thing Gerhart had to do on this play was allow the blocks to develop.
By the time the safety makes contact, Gerhart is 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
The result of the play is a 15-yard gain.
The following play is Gerhart's third carry of the game. The Vikings use a similar formation—this time tight end John Carlson is lined up in the slot.
Before the snap, Carlson motions into the backfield. As the play develops, Johnson pulls behind Sullivan and Carlson follows. Gerhart gets the ball and falls in line behind Carlson.
At the line of scrimmage, Gerhart steps between right tackle Phil Loadholt and Carlson. As he emerges through the line, there is nothing but wide-open space in front of him.
Gerharts covers 20 yards before any contact is made. This play gained 26 yards.
Again, Gerhart does a great job of following his blocks and taking the open running lane for huge gains.
Let's take a look at one of Peterson's runs, just two plays after Gerhart's 26-yard run.
Again, the Vikings use a two-receiver set, and once again they motion one of the receivers toward the line.
This time, the Vikings use straight-ahead blocking at the line of scrimmage. There are no pulling guards or an extra blocker to assist Felton.
As Peterson follows Felton into the line, it appears that there is an opening for the play to develop. The problem on this play is that Felton has two linebackers waiting on the other side of the play.
Felton decides to block linebacker Brad Jones. Jones is able to slide off the block and fill the hole in the line. Linebacker A.J. Hawk, left unblocked, also fills the gap, leaving Peterson nowhere to run.
This play only gains one yard.
On the very next play, the Vikings use a pulling guard with Peterson in the backfield, but the play is designed to go to the outside to the right. Again, the Packers hold Peterson to a gain of only one yard.
From this small sample of plays, it appears that Gerhart was more successful running behind pulling guards, tight ends and fullbacks into the line of scrimmage.
It might be because Peterson is quicker to the line than Gerhart, and therefore he hits the line before the blocking schemes employed can develop.
It will be interesting to see if Gerhart can continue to gain big chunks of yardage with future carries. Perhaps he can get a good start against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.