EAGAN, Minn. — If the Vikings want to continue to make a run at the playoffs, they will need to pass another test presented by another vaunted NFL defensive tackle.
Not that Minnesota conquered Chicago's Akiem Hicks by any means. Hicks had a pair of sacks and constantly stuffed the run Monday night, but it was the Vikings who came away with the win.
Minnesota will take the same result Sunday, which will feature perhaps the league's best defensive player (let along defensive lineman) in Aaron Donald.
What does Donald do well on the field?
"Everything," said Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. "He's Aaron Donald."
Donald is a few games away from completing his eighth season, and has already put together a résumé that will land him in Canton, Ohio, down the road.
Donald has been the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in three different seasons (2017, 2018 and 2020), and is the only player in NFL history to be honored that many times. He also has been a Pro Bowl selection in each of his first eight seasons, and has been an All-Pro honoree every season except his rookie year of 2014.
Kirk Cousins called Donald "the total package."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who knows a thing or two about defense, said Wednesday that Donald is the best 3-techniqiue defensive tackle ... of all-time.
"Yeah, he's the best," Zimmer said. "He's got great determination, which I think is part of it. But also, he's got excellent quickness and strength."
How do you defend that? Especially after the interior of the Vikings offensive line struggled against Hicks?
"Well, there's things you have to try to do. It's not that you can do it all the time," Zimmer said. "There's things we can try to do but I won't go into it."
The Vikings actually did all right against Donald in wins in 2014, 2015 and 2017. But the last time the teams met — on Thursday Night Football in Week 4 of the 2018 season — Donald wreaked havoc.
He recorded a pair of sacks and hit Cousins four total times, all while playing 71 snaps on defense in a 38-31 Rams win.
Cook had 10 carries for just 20 yards in that game in Los Angeles.
"Nah, I haven't [seen anyone else like him], to be honest," Cook said. "The way he gets his hands in and out, the way he attacks defenders, the way his mind processes — before the ball is even snapped — how he is going to attack offenses, it's crazy.
"We have to find a way to deal with him," Cook added.
That's a tall task for any offense. But it might be especially challenging for a Vikings unit that is coming off its worst game of the season with just 193 total yards. Minnesota's recent struggles also go back to Week 14, when the Vikings held a 23-0 halftime lead over the Steelers.
View photos of Vikings players from practice on Dec. 22 at the TCO Performance Center.
Since then, however, the Vikings have scored just three touchdowns on their past 19 offensive possessions. Minnesota has also punted nine times, kicked three field goals, thrown three interceptions and had one turnover on downs. The last one occurred as the first half expired.
With Minnesota at 7-7 and currently in the final NFC Wild Card spot, however, the offense isn't focused on style points right now. Just wins.
"I feel like at this point, if we win games … yeah, we're going to correct some of the mistakes we make. I don't know if y'all want like 300-yard numbers, 200-yard numbers," Cook said. "As long as we win, that's all that matters.
"In this building right now, at this point we're in right now, a win is the only thing that matters to us," Cook added. "The stats don't matter. We can go out and have 20 yards. As long as we go out and win. We good. That's what matters to this team right now: a win. A win in that win column."
Cousins added: "Obviously winning is where we're most importantly focused. It's really positive we won the last two games."
If the Vikings want to keep pace in the playoff race, and maintain their current status of being in the dance, they'll need to find a way to defeat a stout Rams defense that is led by one of the best football players on the entire planet.
"He's a great player. To me, he's got a little bit of a combination of John Randle and La'Roi Glover," said Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson, who coached both players.
"He's got Johnny's quickness and ability to transition from move to move, but then he's also got the ability for a guy who is not big to hit you with power and walk you back to the quarterback," Patterson continued. "Glover had that explosive power for a 285-pound guy. Glover usually beat you off of power and then transitioned to an edge, where Johnny was quick edge-to-edge, quick spin outside, quick spin inside, so Aaron has the ability to give you a little bit of Johnny and a little bit of Glover."
Patterson also added: "He's a tremendous player, the best 3-technique in the league. He's special."
Cook said: "A great player, Hall of Famer right now in my eyes."