After Further Review is a deeper look at plays or stats after Vikings games…
The Vikings weren’t expecting to run the ball 38 times and throw it 10 on Sunday against the Falcons, but surging ahead to a big lead prompted Minnesota to churn its legs and the clock in a 28-12 win.
Dalvin Cook, whose two preseason carries included an 85-yard touchdown, showed he was regular-season ready by totaling 40 yards on his first two rushes of 2019.
We’ll focus on those two impressive runs that were the second and third explosive plays of the day by the Vikings offense. Not only were they big gains, but they also occurred on less-than-favorable down-and-distances.
The Falcons under Head Coach Dan Quinn have shown a propensity to load the box with eight defenders, and Sunday was no exception.
According to NextGen Stats, Cook faced an 8-man box on 47.6 percent of his snaps Sunday, which ranked third-most in the NFL in Week 1 behind Detroit’s C.J. Anderson and Kerryon Johnson (not counting Monday’s games).
The quick solution? Run outside the box.
Q1, 9:17 remaining — Second-and-9 at the Atlanta 40
After a gain of 1 on a short pass to Cook, the Vikings utilize 22 personnel with Cook and fullback C.J. Ham in the I-formation and tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith, Jr., and receiver Adam Thielen in at the skill positions.
Smith, Jr., is lined up to Rudolph’s right at the start of the play, off the line of scrimmage. He motions to the left before the snap, bringing the outermost defender, cornerback Isaiah Oliver, across the formation.
Defensive end Takkarist McKinley is now the left-most player (on the defense’s left hash mark). When the ball is snapped, McKinley goes up the field and toward the middle, which would have created traffic if Kirk Cousins was handing off to Cook.
Cousins, however, executes a simple toss back to Cook, giving the running back plenty of space to utilize his speed and reach the perimeter of the defense.
Rudolph is able to block safety Keanu Neal into the path of linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. After Neal, Rudolph engages with Campbell. It looks as if Neal tries to set the edge at the 32 and push Cook back to the middle, but no teammates are in position to make the tackle, and Cook gets an extra 13 yards before plowing into linebacker Deion Jones.
Q1, 8:28 remaining — Second-and-10 at the Atlanta 19
After a play that was initially ruled a sack and fumble out of bounds by Cousins for a 9-yard loss but was challenged by Head Coach Mike Zimmer and overturned, the Vikings utilize 11 personnel with Cook in as the single back, Rudolph at tight end and Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Chad Beebe in at receiver.
The Vikings have Thielen off the line of scrimmage outside of Beebe, who is to the left of Rudolph. Thielen goes in motion from left to right, bringing Oliver with him across the field.
Cousins surveys the adjustment by Atlanta, and Thielen goes back to the left.
Cook takes the handoff and sees Campbell coming in. So does left guard Pat Elfein, who shoves Campbell off his intended course. Cook is able to cut quickly and follow Thielen around the left side of the formation.
Rudolph gets a good block on Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn at the line of scrimmage. Thielen takes out Oliver on the play, and Beebe is able to block Neal at the second level, allowing Cook to accelerate and win the footrace to the pylon.
After the game, Zimmer complimented the offensive staff for “making some of the scheme runs that they ran today” and credited Cook’s ability to find space on the perimeter when a play was designed to go inside.
“They're really good defensively, and they've got eight, an extra guy in the box almost every single play,” Zimmer said. “So to run the football effectively, I thought our offensive coaches did a great job making some of the scheme runs that they ran today, and then obviously Cook and the offensive line did a really nice job.
“Dalvin’s a great player. His feet are amazing,” Zimmer added. “A couple of those plays were designed to go inside, and he just outran the perimeter. So he’s a terrific weapon for us, and obviously we’ll have to continue to use him to the best of our ability.”