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Vikings winning behind throwback ground game

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Minnesota Vikings come in at No. 5 in this week’s ESPN NFL Power Rankings. It’s the first time Minnesota has been ranked in the top five since Week 1 of the 2010 season when Brett Favre was at quarterback.

Five weeks ago they were the No. 16 team with a 2-2 record and a 3.8 percent chance to win the NFC North, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. The Vikings have won five games in a row since their bye week and enter a Week 11 showdown with the Green Bay Packers as the favorites to win the division (56 percent).

First-down rushing

Over 63 percent of the Vikings’ first-down plays this season have been designed rushes, second in the NFL behind the St. Louis Rams (66 percent). The Rams and Vikings are on pace to be behind only the 2014 Dallas Cowboys in designed run percentage on first down over the past five seasons (68 percent).

The approach has been predictable, but no one has been able to stop the Vikings’ first-down rushing attack.

Adrian Peterson has 703 rushing yards on first down this season, most in the NFL by 176 yards. Peterson’s first-down rushing yardage by itself would rank sixth in the NFL on all downs combined. The Detroit Lions as a team have 602 rushing yards this season.

Nearly 62 percent of the Vikings’ total yards on first down come from rushes, the highest in the NFL. The last team to gain a higher percentage of total yards on first down via run plays was the 2012 Vikings. That team went 10-6, made the postseason and was led by Peterson’s 2,097 rushing yards, second-most in a season in NFL history.

Heavy personnel

The Vikings have run 52 offensive plays with three or more tight ends on the field this season. Forty of those plays have been rushes (77 percent).

Seven teams have run the ball more out of three tight end sets than the Vikings have this season, but no one has rushed for more yards than the Vikings’ 299. Their 7.5 yards per rush on plays with three tight ends on the field is 1.8 yards higher than the Washington Redskins, who rank second in that category.

On average, Vikings players have been contacted 3.4 yards past the line of scrimmage on rushes out of three tight end sets, second-highest in the NFL.

The Vikings lead the NFL with eight rushing touchdowns with at least three tight ends on the field. One of those was Peterson’s 80-yard touchdown Sunday in Oakland.

Better late in games

The Vikings are 6-0 in games they have led at some point in the fourth quarter this season thanks to the best “closer” in football.

Peterson is averaging 3.3 yards per rush in the first quarter, 3.7 in the second, 5.8 in the third and 8.1 in the fourth this season. The 8.1 yards per rush average in the fourth quarter ranks third in the NFL, and Peterson’s 290 fourth-quarter rushing yards ranks first.

Peterson’s yards after contact per-rush average gets better as the game progresses as well. He is averaging an NFL-high 3.9 yards after contact per rush in the fourth quarter this season. The NFL average in the fourth quarter is 1.6.