EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings enthusiastically welcomed Dalvin Cook back to the lineup, and he hit the ground running Thursday against the Steelers.
Minnesota leaned heavily on the run game to finish with 242 yards and was able to sack Ben Roethlisberger five times to pass Pittsburgh for the NFL lead this season.
The Vikings now have 41 sacks, and the Steelers remain at 37 after not recording a sack of Kirk Cousins.
Roethlisberger seemed to be 100-percent on 50-50 balls, finding success to mount Pittsburgh's comeback.
In the end, though, Minnesota improved to 6-7 and Pittsburgh fell to 6-6-1.
Here's a deeper dive at some "next-day stats" with an eye on the ever-increasing number of Next Gen Stats. We normally reference rankings across the league (besides Monday games), but with this one starting Week 14, we'll try to provide some other context for these numbers.
1. Cook runs rampant
Cook's 205 rushing yards are the most by a player in the 2021 season and the most by a Viking in a game against the Steelers.
The running back gained 20 on his first carry and found success in every direction on his way to his second career game with more than 200 yards on the ground (Chuck Foreman had one 200-yard game for Minnesota, and Adrian Peterson recorded six such games).
He rushed seven times for 36 yards outside the left tackle, 11 times for 88 yards between the tackles and nine times for 81 yards and two scores outside of the right tackle.
According to Next Gen Stats, Cook totaled 58 rushing yards over expectation, which gives him 128 for the season (the fourth-most in the NFL).
Cook was toting the rock during three of the top four "remarkable rushes" in the game. Those are assessed by yards gained above expectation.
The 29-yard touchdown run that was expected to gain 6 ranked first and resulted in six points.
Pittsburgh's Najee Harris gained 23 on a play that was expected to gain 6 for the second-best "remarkable rush" in the game.
Cook also zoomed for 30 on a play that was expected to gain 15, and the aforementioned 20-yarder picked up 14 more than expected.
2. Steelers hit improbable completions
Roethlisberger really started slinging it as the game progressed, and the Steelers reaped rewards on "improbable completions."
According to Next Gen Stats, the QB's 38-yard pass to Chase Claypool down the Vikings sideline on the final possession of the game had a completion probability of 15.8 percent. If not for the catch, Bashaud Breeland was going to get flagged for pass interference.
Roethlisberger's 30-yard touchdown toss to James Washington was barely a tick higher at 16.2 percent and made it 29-20 with 12:11 remaining.
Those two plays rank 15th and 16th across the NFL this season.
A 37-yard pass that immediately preceded the Washington score had a completion probability of 24.7 percent, and a 29-yard toss to Washington in the third quarter was calculated at a likelihood of 29.3 percent.
Minnesota's least probable completion of the night (31.6 percent) was arguably its most important of the night. It resulted in K.J. Osborn's 62-yard touchdown that made it 36-20 with 10:51 remaining.
Osborn covered 66.3 yards for the longest play of the night, which provided a big boost with Kirk Cousins finishing 14-of-31 passing for 216 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Steelers receiver Ray-Ray McCloud had the second-longest play of the night by running 59 yards during a 22-yard kickoff return.
3. Fast, faster, fastest
Playing fast, executing with efficiency and some elite speed were on display in multiple aspects.
Average time to throw
It was noticeable to the untrained eye and confirmed by data: Kirk Cousins was getting rid of the ball quickly.
His average time to throw was 2.5 seconds, a sign of Minnesota's respect for Pittsburgh's pass rush. The quick decisions — along with T.J. Watt leaving the game with a groin injury after 25 plays — helped Minnesota avoid taking a sack.
Roethlisberger had an average time to throw of 2.23 seconds, with 27 of his attempts thrown behind the line of scrimmage or fewer than 10 yards beyond it.
For reference, Roethlisberger's average time to throw this season is 2.4 seconds, the fastest in the NFL. Cousins' season-long average is 2.72 seconds, which is tied at 12th.
The Vikings, however, were able to sack him five times, capitalizing on some blitzes, as well as Pittsburgh starting rookies at center and left tackle.
Harrison Smith recorded the fastest sack, toppling Big Ben in 2.8 seconds. Eric Kendricks was next at 2.98 seconds.
Sheldon Richardson (3.06 seconds), Michael Pierce (3.67 seconds) and Armon Watts (5.78 seconds) recorded the other three sacks.
View game action photos between the Vikings and Steelers during the Thursday Night Football matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Pittsburgh receiver Diontae Johnson recorded the fastest speed by a ball carrier, reaching 20.43 miles per hour, but the play gained just 6 on a third-and-18 and was followed by a missed field goal.
It almost seemed like Johnson was traveling so fast he couldn't turn up the field for a few more yards. The Vikings did have defenders at multiple spots to usher him out of bounds.
Minnesota's top speed by a ball carrier (19.92) was recorded by Justin Jefferson in his deep crossing route for a 14-yard touchdown.
Cook's top speed (19.82), which recorded on his 29-yard touchdown, ranked third overall.