After sputtering against the Dallas Cowboys because of their inability to execute on some interesting play calling, the Minnesota Vikings’ offense has started to wheel and deal again in the last two weeks against the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers. Sunday will present another huge challenge as they face off against a Green Bay Packers defense that has launched itself into the conversation for best unit in the league.
The key to Minnesota cracking that code on Sunday? Dalvin Cook.
Green Bay’s pass defense has been phenomenal this year, especially in the last three weeks. They held Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, and Russell Wilson to a single touchdown pass combined, and it wasn’t even an outlier for this Packers squad.
On the season, they are ranked third in the NFL, giving up just a shade over 200 yards passing per game. This shouldn’t deter the Vikings from taking their shots, especially considering the one-two punch of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. They must recognize that the path to opening up these possibilities goes through Cook.
Joe Barry’s defense in Green Bay has neutralized the opposing run game without bringing extra forces. It’s allowed the back end of the defense to pin their ears back and put more bodies in the secondary to wipe out one passing attack after another. If Cook can find slivers of space and turn one- or two-yard runs into four- and five-yard runs, it will force Barry’s defense to change. Even if it takes time, Minnesota can’t afford to abandon the run game altogether like others have against the Packers, which plays right into their hand.
The Seattle Seahawks all but threw the running game out the window in Week 10 after early struggles to establish it as a threat. They ended up running the ball only 16 times and attempted 40 passes. Game flow did not dictate this strategy, either. The score was 3-0 heading into the fourth quarter.
Cook needs to have moderate success on Sunday to open things up for Jefferson and Thielen. Both are more than capable of creating opportunities on their own. However, the Vikings will need to feature Cook early and often to throw Barry off his proven plan. It’s a lesson that the Kansas City Chiefs and Seahawks never learned.
The Chiefs have top-tier weapons in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. They relied on those two to get free regardless of what the Packers’ coverage looked like. The result? A combined nine catches for 105 yards. Seattle went in with a similar mindset, believing the sheer talent of D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett would sweep through Barry’s blueprint. They ended up with a combined five catches for 49 yards. Minnesota knows it will take patience to turn that narrative around.
It can be tempting to keep uncorking passes when you have the luxury of two dynamic wideouts like Jefferson and Thielen. However, that’s not the way to approach the Green Bay defense. Jefferson is better than just about anyone he lines up against, but it’s the group effort and Barry’s overall blueprint that’s turned his defense into a juggernaut. So it all circles back to Cook.
He is one of the most dynamic backs in the league. While Green Bay has seen the best of the best in wide receivers over the last month, they haven’t had to face a back like Dalvin.
Jefferson is already an elite receiver, and Thielen is as consistent as it gets. But the Packers won’t be lacking confidence after taking on DeAndre Hopkins, Hill, Kelce, Metcalf, and Lockett in recent weeks. However, Cook brings a lot more to the table than Alex Collins, James Conner, or Darrel Williams.
Klint Kubiak will be tempted to unleash Jefferson and Thielen on Sunday after slicing up the Ravens and Chargers with numerous explosive plays in back-to-back weeks. Minnesota will have their chances. However, to set up those plays, they will need Cook to step up and show out against a Packers run defense that is far less stingy than its pass defense. He holds the key to success for the Vikings’ offense in Week 11.