For the second straight week, a double-digit Minnesota Vikings win ended with pushing and shoving between a confident Vikings offensive line and a frustrated defensive front.
There are myriad reasons to explain this — Dalvin Cook’s punishing running style, Minnesota’s heavy personnel groups, Kevin Stefanski’s tough-to-predict playcalling — but it boils down to one key tenet: The Vikings offense is not fun to play against right now, and their offensive line as at the center of the surge.
Center Garrett Bradbury leaned back in his chair after the game, feet up, blasting AC/DC‘s “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” from a speaker in his locker. The quickly-improving rookie was in no rush to shower. He soaked in the team’s fourth straight win, a 19-9 slugfest, and their seventh game out of eight where they’ve rushed for over 100 yards. During the team’s four-game spurt, they are averaging 93 rushing yards in the second half alone, strengthening as the game progresses.
“That’s the goal,” Bradbury told Zone Coverage after the game. “You’re not going to win the game in the first quarter, and so every game in the NFL is going to be a four-quarter, hard-fought battle, and that’s what it was again tonight.”
In last Sunday’s 42-30 win over the Detroit Lions, where Kirk Cousins stole the headlines, the Vikings ran the ball 37 times for 166 yards with little fanfare, including a game-sealing Dalvin Cook touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Soon after, the game’s final kneel-downs resulted in the Vikings’ offensive line mixing it up with the Lions defense after the whistle and drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Detroit.
The end of Thursday’s grind-it-out affair had a similar feeling, as did the final production in the running game: 38 carries for 161 yards. The Vikings were in the midst of a morale-killing fourth-quarter drive that took 8 minutes, 16 seconds, consisted of 16 straight running plays, wound the game clock under 30 seconds and featured some extracurricular activity in between plays. The Washington defense was on the field for 21 minutes, 59 seconds in the second half, enough time for the Vikings to embed themselves firmly under their skin.
“I know defensive players do not like to get cut,” Zimmer said, referring to the cut blocks that are emblematic of Minnesota’s zone running scheme. “The more times we get those guys on the ground and they have to get up, they don’t like it. I think that leads to a lot of it.”
The Vikings have rushed the football 34 or more times in their six wins, all by double digits. Yet despite playing from ahead in three-quarters of their games and running the ball into loaded fronts, Minnesota came into action Thursday ranked third in the league in yards per play at 6.4, surrounded by the pass-happy Chiefs, Cowboys and Texans. Minnesota’s yards per play on Thursday night: 6.5.
The Vikings showed their hand on the game’s opening drive, showing all three tight ends in “13” personnel, which they’d go back to throughout the night.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight,” said left tackle Riley Reiff.
But as Stefanski has shown throughout the season, the Vikings aren’t afraid to throw out of heavy sets. Kirk Cousins was an uber-efficient 23 of 26 for 285 yards. His three incompletions came on two throwaways and a drop, and Cousins got his greatest weapon involved in the passing game early.
Though Cook came two yards short of logging his sixth 100-yard rushing performance, his 73 yards in the receiving game (all in the first half) upped his scrimmage yards to 171 and made him the fourth Vikings player in history to earn 1,000 all-purpose yards through eight weeks of the season. He scored the game’s lone touchdown on a four-yard touchdown run where he bounced off two tacklers near the goal line.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) October 25, 2019
On Cook’s penultimate run of the night, he bounced off defensive lineman Daron Payne and fell across the first-down line, moving the chains once again on the Vikings’ eight-minute march. Words were exchanged with linebacker Jon Bostic as Cook dropped the ball at Bostic’s feet.
It’s hard to resist a little showmanship when you’re on this kind of roll.
Cook’s confidence is overflowing right now, and it’s rubbing off on his offensive line. While the star running back’s elusiveness has enhanced the appearance of the offensive line, that group has fueled Cook with some road grating of their own. The third-year back is off to one of the fastest eight-game starts in Vikings history. Just like the offensive line, he seems to be getting better as the season goes.
“When it comes down to it, it’s the third and fourth quarter,” Cook said. “[Defenders] are pretty much are worn down inside. And they really don’t think we’re going to keep running the football and doing what we’re doing. We’re just staying on schedule and sticking with it.”