Skip to main content

News | Minnesota Vikings –

Presented by

Lunchbreak: Vikings Defense Shows Aggressiveness; RB Dalvin Cook Expands Role in Pass Game

Heading into their game against the Colts last Saturday, the Vikings needed to clean up two key areas: running the ball effectively and not allowing buckets of yards on defense.

Minnesota did both of those in its 39-36 overtime comeback victory. Running back Dalvin Cook compiled 95 yards on 17 carries and added 95 more yards through the air on four receptions, including a 64-yard touchdown on a screen pass that helped tie the game with 2:15 left in regulation.

Defensively, Minnesota held Indianapolis to 341 total yards after allowing more than 400 yards of offense to opponents in its previous five straight games.

Andrew Krammer and Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune looked at both aspects after Minnesota's thrilling victory, with Krammer studying the defensive adjustments and Goessling looking at Cook expanding his role in the pass game.

Krammer wrote the changes made by Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell were seen right from the opening possession by the secondary.

Patrick Peterson, typically the left corner, flipped sides of the field with cornerback Duke Shelley, who got his second start for Minnesota, and got face to face with Colts receiver Alec Pierce — an aggressive, pressing pose not often seen from the zone-heavy scheme.

Peterson often played man-to-man coverage without safety help, a big departure from the deep zones he's played all season. Safety Harrison Smith lurked around the line of scrimmage and made plays. Safety Camryn Bynum then often inched toward Shelley's side in deep support.

Minnesota's defense only allowed one offensive touchdown on the afternoon and 22 points total (a blocked punt for a touchdown and a pick-six were the other scores), but it was in the second half where Donatell's group truly answered the call.

The Vikings varied the four-man rushes in the first half, but they were mostly four-man rushes (15 of 17 passes). That changed when the Vikings were down 33-0 at halftime.

By the final whistle, the Vikings sent five or more rushers on 14 of 37 passing downs, a 38-percent blitz rate that's well above the season average of 16.2 percent as tracked by Pro Football Reference. Extra rush came on the defense's final snap in overtime: [Harrison] Smith blitzed on third down, and edge rusher Danielle Hunter got his fourth hit on [Colts quarterback Matt] Ryan to force an incompletion.

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Giants.

"Bringing a couple pressures on third down," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "Even first and second down, we were bringing some pressures. Ed did a great job calling the game."

After allowing 6.1 yards per play (31st in the NFL) from Weeks 1-14, the Vikings gave up just 4.3 yards on average against the Colts, tying a season-best mark.

As for the ground game, Goessling said from 2019-21, Cook recorded 23 games with 20 carries or more, but the Vikings are relying more on the pass this season under first-year Head Coach Kevin O'Connell. He wrote:

Cook has carried more than 20 times only five times this year; according to data from NFL Fast R, the Vikings are throwing roughly 56% of the time in neutral game situations this year, up from 48% in [2019-21].

When they have leaned on Cook in their mid-zone running scheme, he's found running room tough to come by. He's had only 10 runs of 15 yards or more this season (down from 19 last year), and according to Pro Football Focus, he's averaging a career-high 3.24 yards after contact this year.

Cook gained 40 of his 95 rushing yards Saturday on a burst in the first quarter, but it was in the screen game where he was effective.

His first catch of the day went for 12 yards on what O'Connell called one of the Vikings best-executed screens in a while, and he caught a 6-yard swing pass out of a two-back set in overtime. But on his two other catches — a 13-yard gain early in the fourth quarter and his 64-yard touchdown — Cook was lined up outside the numbers.

"First and foremost, he can catch the football," O'Connell said. "He's dynamic enough to understand the details of route-running and his abilities show up and the rhythm and timing for [quarterback] Kirk [Cousins]. And then once he gets the ball in his hands, there's space and there's ability to make something after the catch. He's a dynamic guy with the football in his hands. We knew after that early hiccup of putting the ball on the ground, [he] was going to be great the rest of the day with that ball security. So I think it's his ability to just impact the game. He's one of our five [eligible receivers] that we want to have come to life every time we drop back."

According to PFF, Cook lined up wide eight times (a season-high) and was featured as an in-line tight end on seven more snaps to help protect the pocket.

"Being able to split him out means we're in more than likely in empty formations," O'Connell said. "That requires those offensive linemen to get Kirk the time needed against a front that quite honestly has caused a lot of problems this year, whether you look at those edges with [Yannick Ngakoue and Kwity Paye] or [DeForest Buckner]. So a lot of credit to our guys up front to sustain throughout that second half."

Goessling added Cook's expanded role against the Colts that included the screen game could be a key for the Vikings offense moving forward into the postseason.

CBS Sports identifies key in-season moves for playoff contenders

Many important roster moves are made during the offseason or at the draft, but some that are made in the heat of a team's season could make — or break — that group's chances of accomplishing the ultimate goal of a championship.

Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports analyzed a critical move made by 10 teams currently contending for the postseason.

For the Vikings, Benjamin said acquiring tight end T.J. Hockenson has helped Minnesota's offense reach new heights. He wrote:

[Vikings Head Coach] Kevin O'Connell's squad was already moving the ball well before Hockenson arrived at the trade deadline, but the former Lions standout has made a seamless transition, catching at least five passes in five of his seven games in purple. His top-10 ability at the position has also opened plenty of lanes for [wide receiver] Justin Jefferson, who's legitimately vying for the first 2,000-yard receiving season.

For the New York Giants, who travel to face Minnesota at noon (CT) Saturday, Benjamin noted their key move was promoting cornerback Fabian Moreau.

Cap-strapped and content to let [New York Head Coach] Brian Daboll maximize a transitioning roster, the Giants big adjustment isn't a season-changer, but it helped bring unexpected stability in the secondary. With Adoree' Jackson injured, Moreau stepped in from the practice squad as an adequate No. 1 corner on the outside, logging career marks in terms of opposing completion percentage.