The Minnesota Vikings used a simple formula to beat the Green Bay Packers on a blustery day at Lambeau Field: Give the ball to Dalvin Cook and let him loose. Cook had twice as many carries (30) as Cousins had passing attempts (14), and the $63 million back had three more yards on the ground (163) than the $66 million quarterback had through the air (160).
It’s unlikely that this is a winning formula. Sure the Vikings, who were 6-point underdogs, won for the first time at Lambeau since 2017. But at some point Cousins is going to have to throw deep and the wind kept Aaron Rodgers from targeting Minnesota’s depleted secondary deep — which may have changed the outcome of the game.
And let’s not forget that D.J. Wonnum may have saved the Vikings from suffering the same fate they did against the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks — losing by one point to a playoff-bound team.
What should we make of this surprising upset? Here are five numbers to consider when parsing through what happened in this game:
From the very first offensive drive, everyone could tell that the offense would be leaning heavily on Cook. He ended the game with 30 rushes for 163 yards, and 2 receptions for 63 yards — totaling 226 yards from scrimmage on the afternoon. He would churn ahead and turn what looked to be runs of three or four yards into 6- or 7-yard gains.
Even more impressive and noteworthy was the fact that 111 of the 226 yards came after contact. He accounted for 69.75% of the Vikings 324 yards, and he finished as both the leading rusher and receiver.
When looking at the Vikings offensive performance from the embarrassing loss to the Atlanta Falcons two weeks ago, you can tell just how integral Cook is to the offense — and how different it looks when he isn’t playing.
Conventional wisdom in the NFL tells you to not break the bank for a running back, but Cook is validating the Vikings decision to sign him to his massive extension this offseason.
On Sunday afternoon Cook became the first Vikings player since 1979 to record a four-touchdown game. He finished the day with three rushing touchdowns, scoring from a yard out twice, and once on a 21-yard run that capped off the first drive of the afternoon.
Just for good measure, he finished off his scoring by taking a screen pass 50 yards for a touchdown on 3rd and 9 that put the Vikings ahead 28-14 in the third quarter.
The last Vikings player to score four touchdowns was Amhad Rashad… 41 years ago. This shows just how exceptionally talented Dalvin Cook is. In the last 41 years, we have been blessed to watch special players like Adrian Peterson and Randy Moss, yet Dalvin Cook is the only one out of them to have four scores in a single game.
Though the Vikings game plan was mostly just to give the ball to Cook and get out of his way, Kirk Cousins deserves some praise for how efficiently he played. He rebounded well from his nightmare game against the Falcons, playing an error-free game of football in Lambeau.
Cousins completed 11 of his 14 passes on the day, and the offensive line held up, only allowing him to get sacked once on a free rush from Packers defensive lineman Dean Lowry.
Though Cook is undoubtedly the focal point of the offense, Cousins should receive some praise for sticking to the game plan and not forcing any passes that put the team behind even more with mistakes like he did earlier in the season.
The heartbeat of the defense is middle linebacker Eric Kendricks. He has had to take on more responsibility as the veteran presence of this young defense after the season-ending injuries to both Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter.
Kendricks flew to the ball and was constantly making plays for the defense. He recorded a team-high 12 tackles, which was four more than the next highest tackler, Jeff Gladney. Kendricks not only played well against the run, but he also showed his prowess in coverage, breaking up a pass intended for Pro Bowl wideout Devante Adams at a critical point in the game.
Kendricks leads by example for this defense and continues to show his value week-in and week-out for this team.
The memory of Adams repeatedly torching a young Vikings secondary in Week 1 was fresh in my mind heading into this game. He finished that game with a franchise-record 14 catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
All signs pointed to him going off on Sunday. Minnesota would be without Mike Hughes and Holton Hill, both of whom missed the game due to injury, and Adams was coming off a monstrous 196-yard, two-touchdown game.
Things looked bleak when Vikings lost corner Cameron Dantzler to a scary neck injury. The secondary was unable to stop Adams on the first two drives, where he tallied 25 yards and two touchdowns.
Mike Zimmer figured out how to prevent Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target from getting as open at halftime, however. He finished the day with 53 yards and three scores while only averaging a meager 7.6 yards per reception.
While the three touchdowns were less than ideal, holding him to 53 yards showed improvement from the previous three games where Adams carved up the Vikings defense for 156, 116 and 106 yards, respectively. Slowing Adams down helped the Vikings stifle the Packers offense and maintain their lead throughout the game.