After Vikings running backs Alexander Mattison and Cam Akers came closer to an even split in playing time during Monday night's victory over the 49ers, offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said the backfield workloads are still "evolving" as coaches seek a better run game and get more experience with Akers, who saw a season-high 39% playing time in his fourth Vikings game.
"We've kind of found different roles for each guy," said Phillips, who added that the team was also trying to get Ty Chandler involved in the offense. "You don't want to be too specific where one guy is coming in and this is all he does, because defenses will recognize that, but we feel like we're kind of figuring out how each guy complements each other and our offense."
Mattison still led the Vikings' backfield committee against San Francisco. He broke off a season-high 19-yard run in the first quarter, enjoying the space they struggled to generate a week earlier in Chicago. He kept his roles as the starter and two-minute drill running back, finishing with 10 touches for 42 yards.
Akers took 12 touches for 61 yards, including a 30-yard screen pass, and stepped in as the closer. In the final minutes, coach Kevin O'Connell gave Akers three consecutive carries before kicker Greg Joseph missed a 50-yard field goal.
"As a committee, as a group, we were able to go out there and get some good yards," Mattison said, "for us to establish that physicality up front and put our foot on their neck a little bit."
Akers, acquired Sept. 20 via trade from the Rams, said he's grateful for the opportunities in Minnesota and hopes his workload keeps trending upward.
"I'm handling it well. Hopefully it's expanding soon," he said. "I go in every week preparing to do the most with the reps I get. That's how I'm going to approach this week, too, if it's 10 plays, five plays, however many it is, I'm going to make the most out of it."
Quarterback Kirk Cousins sees a "very patient runner" in Akers with quick bursts through the line.
"We always said that there's depth, and the ability of a lot of different guys to rely on them," Cousins said. "I think you're seeing it. There are a lot of players contributing to the offense."
There's still meat on the bone for a Vikings rushing attack that ranks below average in yards per run (22nd), rushing yards (28th), rushing attempts (31st) and rushing touchdowns (32nd).
The Vikings are the NFL's only team without a rushing score, which players discussed in the huddle before one of the two failed goal-line runs against San Francisco.
"Let's go get it right now," Mattison recalled players saying. "But, you know, those guys on the other side of the ball, they get paid, too. Much respect to that defense. We just have to make sure we do what we can to dominate up front and make sure we get those rushing attempts, rushing touchdowns."
Mattison thought he had a chance to score on a first-quarter run stopped at 13 yards by 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga. Mattison scouted Hufanga as a low tackler and hoped to hurdle him at some point, but Hufanga was too quick on that play. Mattison was tackled at the 49ers 20-yard line with only one other defender to beat.
"Chopped me pretty low," Mattison said. "I anticipated it was going to happen, but I didn't pull the trigger on it. I could've probably just went right over the top."