Vikings

Dalvin Cook Isn't 2012 Adrian Peterson

Photo Credit: Benny Sieu (USA TODAY Sports)

It was the year 2012 and the Minnesota Vikings were clinging to life in the NFC playoff picture. With a 6-6 record, the Vikings opted to unleash Adrian Peterson and ride him to victory. The gamble paid off. Peterson racked up 651 yards and four touchdowns over the final month to will the Vikings into the playoffs.

Eight years later, the Vikings are in the same situation. Struggling with Kirk Cousins‘ constant turnovers, the Vikings made the bye week adjustment to give Dalvin Cook the ball as much as possible. It worked out. Cook racked up 226 yards and four touchdowns in a victory over the Green Bay Packers.

With nine games to go, Mike Zimmer’s craving for a balanced offense has been trashed in favor of a similar offense that Leslie Frazier rode to the playoffs in 2012. Unfortunately, it won’t have the same result in 2020.

In a world of “Coaching for Dummies,” giving the ball to the best player on your team usually results in good things. As ESPN’s Courtney Cronin stated, the Vikings have a 14-4 record when Cook goes over 100 scrimmage yards in a game and 6-12-1 when he is held under that number. This is information Zimmer probably knows and hinted at during his Wednesday press conference.

“I think we want to be a run-first offense,” Zimmer said. “A run-first team.”

This isn’t breaking news. Zimmer has demanded to run the ball from the second he came to Minnesota. In fact, John DeFilippo was fired in 2018 because he didn’t run the ball enough. Add it all up, and it’s about as surprising as a Packer fan enjoying a Miller Lite.

But it’s not like the Vikings have been fully comfortable letting Cousins throw the ball. After throwing 606 times (37.8 per game) in 2018, the Vikings chose efficiency over production. Kevin Stefanski dropped Cousins’ attempts to 444 (29.6 per game) in 2019. In 2020, they have turned the dial back even further with 189 attempts (27 per game) through seven games.

Even dating back to last January’s playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints, the Vikings didn’t put the ball in Cousins’ hands until they had to. While the Saints came back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Cousins made two throws that netted him $66 million, and the rest is history.

Conceding to the notion that less is more from Cousins, the Vikings are letting Cook tote the rock. He responded with a historic effort: The Vikings controlled the clock, dominated the Packers and won by… six points.

That’s right. Cook played at a Hall of Fame level, and the gameplan earned the Vikings a nail-biting finish that was saved by a D.J. Wonnum strip-sack. Still, the Vikings, who enter Sunday at 2-5, discovered a pathway to succeed in the final nine games of the season.

None of this takes into account who they are giving the ball to make this plan work. Cook is a dynamic back when healthy, but isn’t always the best picture of health. This season, we’ve already seen Cook get injured without being touched. Early in the Packers game, Cook stayed down on the ground before returning and shredding their defense.

Cook is a tremendous running back, but it might not be wise to give Cook 30 touches per game down the stretch. This is especially true when the Vikings have spent the last two seasons stockpiling weapons for Cousins (Irv Smith Jr., Justin Jefferson, etc.) in order to help him perform.

To the Vikings’ credit, Zimmer hinted that he would have liked to see more play-action to get those targets involved, but it was impossible due to the windy conditions at Lambeau Field. Still, it’s not like a couple of play-action throws is going to turn the Vikings into an air-raid team.

Instead, the Vikings need to figure out how to make all of the pieces of this offense work. If they can’t find a way to field a balanced attack, their current hole is only bound to get worse.

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Photo Credit: Benny Sieu (USA TODAY Sports)

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