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The Vikings' running game has been dismal, and they need to fix it

The 2022 Vikings produced a 13-4 season despite several statistical outliers that would have suggested they were closer to a .500 squad.

Their decisionmakers seemed to understand that standing still would not yield the same results in 2023. They made tough roster decisions to jettison veterans like Eric Kendricks and Adam Thielen. And they looked to bolster other areas of the roster.

One major point of emphasis they carried into last offseason: fixing their running game.

"It comes down to efficiency," head coach Kevin O'Connell said at the NFL Scouting Combine a year ago, words that foreshadowed what was to come.

They let go of veteran Dalvin Cook in hopes that Alexander Mattison could provide more consistency. They signed blocking tight end Josh Oliver. They talked openly about having more balance.

And it all added up to another dismal year running the ball. Pro Football Focus graded the Vikings' run game No. 21 in 2022. Last year, it slipped to No. 24.

Pro Football Reference advanced stats showed the Vikings ranked No. 20 in expected points added on running plays last year, only marginally better than the year before and certainly influenced by Joshua Dobbs' midyear efforts at quarterback. They finished No. 29 in overall rushing.

So now O'Connell, a former quarterback, goes into Year 3 still trying to get the running game right — something I talked about on Friday's Daily Delivery podcast.

The first domino to fall — unsurprising in retrospect — is the Vikings are planning to release Mattison. The run game improved when Ty Chandler moved into a featured role toward the end of the season. Chandler averaged 4.5 yards per carry and was more dynamic than Mattison.

But Chandler cannot be the only plan in 2024, nor is he likely to be. The Vikings could look to the draft, free agency or both in order to bolster their running backs. More than that, though, they must look inward. Is O'Connell finding the right run-pass balance? Is the run game design where it needs to be? Do they need to bolster the interior of the offensive line to establish more power in the run game?

Those are essential questions for 2024 and beyond, particularly if the Vikings move on from Kirk Cousins and turn the offense over to a young quarterback in the next couple seasons.

Here are four more things to know today:

*Star Tribune Vikings writer Andrew Krammer had plenty of interesting insights on today's podcast about the Vikings' quarterback situation. Keep an eye on what might be a limited free agent market for Kirk Cousins — and Minnesota's interest in Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy.

*The Wild are eight points back of the two Wild Card spots after a disappointing 6-1 loss at Nashville on Thursday. With the trade deadline one week from now, the writing is on the wall for this season.

*Wondering about Name, Image and Likeness? Here's a great primer on NIL, part of a larger Star Tribune series on the subject.

*The Wolves are alone atop the Western Conference after Oklahoma City's surprising loss to San Antonio.