Blogging The Boys: What’s the best way to deal with Dalvin Cook? Overload the line of scrimmage? Get mobile linebackers on the field to run sideline-to-sideline? Roll safeties up in the box and take your chances on the backend?
Daily Norseman: To be honest, I’m not sure if there’s one “best way” to deal with Dalvin Cook. Cook’s weaker games this season have come in games where the Vikings have gotten behind and had to throw more than they’d like or games where he’s gotten injured. The one team that slowed him down a bit was Chicago last week, but the Bears have always had his number. I think a lot of the success the Bears have had against Cook has to do with the presence of Akiem Hicks in the middle of their defense, and when he went out in Monday night’s game the run game picked up significantly for Cook and the Vikings. If you don’t have someone like Hicks on the interior, your best bet might be to try to overload the line of scrimmage and hope that he doesn’t get through to the next level. The Cowboys have a very solid pair of linebackers that should be able to chase things down a bit, and I’m not sure if I’d roll safeties up too often because of the threat that Cook presents if he gets to the second level and beyond.
BTB: What was the turning point from such a poor start for the Vikings to the three-game win streak?
DN: I think the team took the bye week to reevaluate how they run their offense. Early in the season, the team tried to run things through Kirk Cousins and throw the ball more frequently. Since the bye week, basically everything in the offense has run through Dalvin Cook, and that’s taken a great deal of pressure off of Cousins and the passing game. At the same time, it’s made the passing game more effective, as the Vikings now lead the league in passing yards/attempt through the first 10 weeks of the season. Mike Zimmer and Gary Kubiak are old-school coaches, and to be honest that made the early reliance on Cousins and the passing game kind of surprising. Now it seems they’re running the kind of offense they’ve wanted to run all along and the difference has been significant.
BTB: Is the fanbase turned around to definitely thinking playoffs now? Or is there still some hesitation about how good the team really is?
DN: One of the biggest parts of being a Vikings fan is the constant wait for the other shoe to drop. After the 1-5 start we got a lot of the “Tank for Trevor” or “Flop for Fields” and what have you and people were ready to give up on the season. Now, after three straight wins against division opponents (two of them on the road), the optimism is starting to take over again. The next three games on the schedule are at home and are all against teams that the Vikings should be favored against. But we’ve seen enough from this franchise over the years to know that getting too excited can potentially be hazardous. I think most fans realize that the Vikings are back in the postseason picture, but because of the rough start they’re not really in control of things. If you figure that the NFC South and the NFC West are each going to get at least two teams into the playoffs, along with the division champs from the North and the East, that’s going to leave at least a few teams fighting for one playoff spot. The Vikings just need to handle the things that they can control, starting with (hopefully) getting a win this Sunday.
BTB: The team had a huge turnover on defense. Walk us through the good and the bad on that side of the ball.
DN: The nature of this offseason, with COVID-19 and training camp getting messed up and no preseason games, hit every team pretty hard. But it’s difficult for me to imagine it hitting a team harder than it hit Minnesota, specifically on the defense. The team lost five starters from last year (Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph), then had defensive tackle Michael Pierce opt out because of COVID concerns and Danielle Hunter go out for the season with a neck issue. That meant having to retool most of the defense on the fly, and when you’re reliant on a bunch of rookies and younger players to make that transition, it’s going to be difficult. That difficulty was only made worse by the fact that the youngsters didn’t get a proper camp or a true offseason to try to get acclimated to the speed of the NFL game. Now, however, guys like Jeff Gladney and D.J. Wonnum are getting their feet underneath them and the results are starting to show. Now that the younger players are getting adjusted to the speed of the NFL game, I think you’re going to see the Vikings’ defense continue to improve the rest of the way.
BTB: How do you see the game going on Sunday and what’s the final score?
DN: This has all the markings of a “trap” game for Minnesota, what with them riding a hot streak and getting to come back home to face a team that, on paper, they should beat. I think that Andy Dalton coming back at quarterback will be a help for the Cowboys on offense, as he can definitely make use of the Cowboys’ group of wide receivers. However, I think the Vikings are going to be able to avoid the trap in this one, as Cook should be able to help open things up on offense for Cousins, Adam Thielen, and Justin Jefferson to do some damage against the Dallas secondary. I think the Vikings get their fourth straight win, 30-20.
Thanks for the knowledge, Daily Norseman.