RB Index, Week 4: Advice to Vikings? Don't abandon run game!


Nothing went right for the Vikings last week against the Bills. Nothing! In that 27-6 blowout loss at home ...

Kirk Cousins was sacked four times, including a pair of strip-sacks that resulted in two Bills scoring drives. Minnesota's vaunted defense allowed 27 first-half points. Rookie quarterback Josh Allen went Lolo Jones on the Vikes, hurdling defenders left and right to extend Buffalo drives. Minnesota ran the ball a total of six times, including two carries by Cousins.

Wait, what? Minnesota ran the ball a total of SIX times?!

Yep, the Vikings panicked and finished with a grand total of 14 rushing yards, the third-lowest single-game mark in team history. That's no recipe for success, even in today's pass-happy league. Since 2016, teams are 0-7 when rushing 10 or fewer times in a game. The last time an NFL club won, while logging 10 or fewer carries? The New England Patriots in Week 7 of 2015.

I understand the Vikings were without starting running back Dalvin Cook. I understand they were down 17-0 just 10 minutes into the first quarter. Then, 27-0 at the half. But that's no excuse to completely abandon the run game. Even without Cook, Latavius Murray and Mike Boone are viable running backs. Last season, when Cook was sidelined with a knee injury, Murray had 842 rush yards and eight touchdowns on 216 carries. He has big-play ability -- along with Boone, who had an 11-yard run on one of his two carries Sunday.

Minnesota's six rushes against the Bills -- with the four designed runs for Murray and Boone all coming in the first half -- tied the NFL record for fewest ground attempts in a game. The last team with just six rushing plays in a game was the Cardinals in 2006, ironically against the Vikings.

Cousins and the air attack struggled early on with costly turnovers -- as Minnesota didn't cross the 50-yard line until the third quarter -- and continued to struggle into the second half. Cousins, whose time in the pocket was often limited, threw the ball 55 times and put just six points on the board. The offense faltered throughout because there was no balance with the run game. Even if the RBs can't get much going, calling run plays helps to set up play-action and open up the pass downfield. It also gives the defense a rest by keeping that unit off the field. That's the kind of relief Vikings defenders could've used on Sunday, as Buffalo won the time of possession battle by 11 minutes.

If the Vikings expect to win Thursday night against the Los Angeles Rams, who rank No. 1 in scoring defense, they had better get the run game going -- I don't care who's in the backfield.

Every week of the 2018 NFL season, former All-Pro running back and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew ranks his top 15 backs. For the first quarter of the season, the Ground Index rankings are based on a combination of:

1) Player accomplishments prior to the 2018 season.
2) Weekly performances, while considering strength of opponent.

Following Week 4, rankings will be judged solely on this season's efforts. Now, let's get to it. Entering Week 4, MJD's pecking order is below.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week's rankings.

Todd Gurley

Previous rank: No. 1

Gurley had 156 scrimmage yards (105 rushing, 51 receiving) and a TD in Week 3. Honestly, it didn't even feel like a big day for him. That's how good he is.

2018 stats: 3 games | 62 att | 255 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 11 rec | 121 rec yds | 1 rec TD

Alvin Kamara

Previous rank: No. 2

He shined without Mark Ingram in the backfield, posting career highs in rushing attempts (16 carries for 66 yards), receptions (15) and receiving yards (124). The Saints would be smart to stick with Kamara as the center of the offense, as they are 7-0 when the second-year back has 10-plus carries.

2018 stats: 3 games | 37 att | 141 rush yds | 3.8 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 30 rec | 289 rec yds | 1 rec TD

Christian McCaffrey

Previous rank: No. 8

Holy versatility, Batman! One week after McCaffrey had 14 catches for 102 yards, he goes off for 184 yards on the ground. He's convincing everyone -- especially fantasy football gurus -- that he's one to watch.

2018 stats: 3 games | 46 att | 271 rush yds | 5.9 ypc | 0 rush TDs | 22 rec | 157 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Melvin Gordon

Previous rank: No. 3

Gordon recorded a season-high 80 rushing yards against the Rams and added a touchdown. He found success running outside the tackles (12 attempts for 82 yards and one score), but wasn't effective up the middle (three carries for negative-2 yards). The Chargers' O-line needs to help get the back going on inside runs.

2018 stats: 3 games | 39 att | 172 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 17 rec | 144 rec yds | 2 rec TDs

Saquon Barkley

Previous rank: No. 5

The Giants committed to Barkley and it paid off. After the rookie was heavily used in the aerial attack against the Cowboys in Week 2, I was happy to see most of his touches come in the run game against the Texans. Barkley is the 10th player in NFL history to record at least 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first three games.

2018 stats: 3 games | 46 att | 216 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 21 rec | 137 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Jordan Howard

Previous rank: No. 9

The Bears were smart to lean on Howard on the road, even if the results were underwhelming. The workhorse had 24 carries for 61 yards and a TD on the ground and contributed two catches for 20 yards in the pass game.

2018 stats: 3 games | 53 att | 178 rush yds | 3.4 ypc | 1 rush TD | 10 rec | 78 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Ezekiel Elliott

Previous rank: No. 6

Zeke had solid overall production on the ground with 127 rushing yards, but he lost a costly fumble and was subpar in the pass game -- that's why he said "that loss is on me." He should give himself a little credit because the loss to the Seahawks wasn't all his fault. But if there's one area where he can improve, it's catching out of the backfield.

2018 stats: 3 games | 48 att | 274 rush yds | 5.7 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 11 rec | 37 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Kareem Hunt

Previous rank: No. 11

The Chiefs haven't relied on Hunt as much this year as they did in 2017, but I expect that to change as defenses start to dissect Patrick Mahomes. Hunt had 44 rush yards and two TDs in Week 3. His production only goes up from here.

2018 stats: 3 games | 52 att | 168 rush yds | 3.2 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 1 rec | 5 rec yds | 1 rec TD

Matt Breida

Previous rank: No. 14

He continued to be productive with 117 scrimmage yards against the Chiefs. With Jimmy Garoppolo's season-ending knee injury, look for Breida, tied for the league lead in rushing yards, to get more touches.

2018 stats: 3 games | 32 att | 274 rush yds | 8.6 ypc | 1 rush TD | 7 rec | 53 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Adrian Peterson

Previous rank: Not ranked

Against a familiar foe, Peterson had himself a day -- 19 attempts for 120 yards and two touchdowns vs. the Packers. His first touchdown of the game helped him surpass Marshall Faulk and Shaun Alexander for sole possession of No. 7 on the all-time list for rushing touchdowns. Now with 102 career rushing TDs, Peterson has his sights set on Hall of Famers John Riggins (104), Jim Brown (106) and Walter Payton (110).

2018 stats: 3 games | 56 att | 236 rush yds | 4.2 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 5 rec | 100 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Carlos Hyde

Previous rank: Not ranked

Thursday wasn't just about football for Hyde, who welcomed a new baby into the family after the Browns' first win in two seasons. Plus, Thursday was the man's own birthday! His present? Carrying the ball more than ever now, because Cleveland's starting a rookie quarterback. Hooray!

2018 stats: 3 games | 61 att | 203 rush yds | 3.3 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 4 rec | 15 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Isaiah Crowell

Previous rank: Not ranked

Crowell again showed he's a viable option out of the backfield with his second big game in three weeks. With a pair of scores against the Browns, Crowell leads the Jets in touchdowns this season with four.

2018 stats: 3 games | 38 att | 171 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 4 rec | 21 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Tevin Coleman

Previous rank: No. 12

Coleman came back to Earth after a big Week 2, but still notched a touchdown reception.

2018 stats: 3 games | 40 att | 159 rush yds | 4.0 ypc | 1 rush TD | 7 rec | 58 rec yds | 1 rec TD

Dalvin Cook

Previous rank: No. 7

If you don't play, you can't maintain a high ranking. It's that simple. Cook does stay in the top 15, however, because the Vikings' sorely missed him in a horrendous loss to the Bills. As I pointed out above, Minnesota ran the ball six times in that game. I can't help but think some of that was due to the youngster not being out there.

2018 stats: 2 games | 26 att | 78 rush yds | 3.0 ypc | 0 rush TDs | 9 rec | 107 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Phillip Lindsay

Previous rank: No. 15

Keeping Lindsay in the top 15 because his value was apparent after he was ejected in the second quarter for throwing a punch. The Broncos' offense needs its rookie revelation in the backfield because the Broncos can't win by relying on the pass. It's possible Lindsay cost his team the W. Cool your temper, young fella. The team needs you.

2018 stats: 3 games | 33 att | 198 rush yds | 6.0 ypc | 0 rush TDs | 3 rec | 35 rec yds | 1 rec TD

Dropped out: Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (Previously No. 4); Lamar Miller, Houston Texans (No. 10); David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals (No. 13).

The Ground Index delivered by FedEx ranks NFL running back performances all season long. Check out the FedEx Ground NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote.



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