Last season, the Minnesota Vikings entered Lambeau Field with a 1-5 record, and everything seemed lost. Green Bay was 5-1 and rolling along with a dominant offense. But the Vikings won that game 28-22 behind a massive performance from Dalvin Cook. This Sunday night, the Vikings should employ a similar game plan.
Cook ran wild against the Packers, to the tune of 163 yards on 30 carries and three rushing touchdowns. He chipped in 63 receiving yards and had a touchdown reception. Given all the ingredients going into this game, and with Cook coming off the COVID list on Wednesday, they should feed him early and often.
Green Bay’s defense hit its stride in the middle of the season. Their marquee moment was a 17-0 shoutout of Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. But the Packers’ defense has recently reverted to its old ways under Mike Pettine and Dom Capers.
The defense has been shredded, especially by the ground game. On Christmas Day, Nick Chubb gobbled up 126 yards on 7.4 yards per carry. As a team, the Browns averaged a staggering 8.8 yards per pop. Cook has to be drooling at the box score.
Cook has had great success against the Packers throughout his career. He accumulated over 100 combined yards and chipped in a touchdown in their matchup earlier this season. I’m not suggesting that Minnesota abandons the passing game, but two significant factors should have them leaning heavily into Cook.
The weather forecast for Sunday night is beautiful, depending who you ask. The Weather Channel has the temperature hovering around two degrees on Sunday night, a perfect recipe to ride the ground game. Considering all the elements, it’s setting up quite nicely for the Vikings’ offense.
In his career, Cook has run all over Green Bay, and the Packers have been getting gashed by opposing ground games recently. The weather will make it far easier to decide to lean on the ground attack because Cook is one of the best in the business, and Minnesota will be without a critical component of their passing game.
Adam Thielen underwent season-ending surgery on his ankle and will be out until next season. Justin Jefferson will always be a problem for the defense, and he should be a massive part of any game plan the Vikings put together. However, like many other factors, Jefferson missing his tag-team partner will make it easier for the Vikings to focus on the ground game. Cook spoke about Thielen’s absence on Wednesday, per Chris Tomasson of The Pioneer Press.
“Prayers to my brother,’’ Cook said. “Hope he heals up good. Hope he gets everything intact and gets right. Since I got here [in 2017], he’s been a true brother…not even football related, just being there for me. … We’re going to miss him out there on the football field.”
Thankfully for Minnesota, Cook will be back and ready to roll after a stay on the COVID list. It was a frustrating wait-and-see for the superstar running back.
“It was frustrating to be put on that list, especially with how important these games are during the season,” said Cook. “I wanted to be out there with my team and wanted to compete with those guys. Those guys know how much it means to me to be out there to help them contribute to a win. I was frustrated watching it on TV. … I’m just glad everything worked out that I’m back this week.”
He’ll be back out there with his teammates in what should be a more than advantageous matchup for the running back.
Minnesota is playing for their season on Sunday night. Their playoff hopes nearly dissolve with a loss. A win, and they get thrown right back into the mix. It seems only fitting that their season is influenced heavily by a matchup against their biggest rivals. It’s easier for Vikings fans to get fired up about it knowing that Cook will be back.
Everything in this game points heavily towards the Vikings handing off to Cook at least 20 times. Honestly, it should be more than that. The weather won’t do the passing game any favors, and the Packers’ run defense was a disaster even with Kenny Clark back in the lineup last week against Cleveland.
Minnesota’s rushing attack is as consistent as it gets, and Green Bay’s defense rides the roller coaster. Last year’s blueprint was simple: Feed Dalvin Cook. Kirk Cousins attempted 14 total passes at Lambeau Field last year. He’ll likely need more than that this time around. But Cook holds the key to the success for Minnesota in a game they have to win to stay alive.