EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings run game hasn’t been explosive over the first two games of the season, but Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo and running back Dalvin Cook said it’s been “just enough.”
They’re also still expecting those big runs to come.
“We haven’t lost, so that’s a good thing,” Cook quipped three days after the Vikings tied the Packers 29 all to move to 1-0-1 on the young season. “We’re throwing the ball pretty good. I think we’re doing just enough to keep teams unbalanced.”
Cook reminded media members that two runs were called back at Lambeau. Specifically, gains of 5 and 7 yards were nullified by illegal formation and holding penalties, respectively.
“We just have to stay true to what we do, man, and things are going to pop,” Cook said. “It’s only Week 3. It’s early. No need to go into panic mode.”
In their season opener against the 49ers, the Vikings totaled 116 rushing yards on 32 attempts. Cook and Latavius Murray led the way with 40 and 42 yards, while Kirk Cousins scrambled four times for 26 yards.
Last weekend, Minnesota ran the ball 18 times for 68 yards. Cook recorded 38 yards on 10 attempts, and Murray had four rushes for 19 yards.
DeFilippo said the offense has been “running it good enough to where we can still run our keeper game,” explaining that it’s allowed them to fake the run and boot out. He pointed out that Cousins’ 75-yard pass to Stefon Diggs was the product of a play-action from the shotgun formation.
“Our play-action passing game has been effective,” DeFilippo said. “So I think we’re running it just good enough, we’re not where we want to be yet by any means, but it’s just good enough where I think it’s keeping our other things honest, if you know what I mean.”
Cook also pointed to the Vikings passing game being successful – Cousins totaled 244 yards through the air in Week 1 and 425 yards in Week 2 (including overtime).
“When we have the type of caliber receivers we have, and we’ve got two of them. Most teams, they just have one,” Cook said. “We’ve got guys who can do a lot of different things, and that’s why I say the running game’s doing just enough for those guys to get the matchups that they’re getting.
“We just have to keep taking that step, and the big runs that everybody’s looking for are going to be there,” added Cook, who suffered a hamstring injury at Green Bay and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.
The second-year running back, whose rookie campaign was cut short by a torn ACL in Week 4, has played an even bigger role in the passing game to start the season than on the ground.
Cook has nine catches for 107 yards in two games, and it isn’t solely a result of catching the ball out of the backfield. DeFilippo has even called for Cook to line up out wide.
DeFilippo said he’s known since he joined the Vikings that he wanted to use Cook in a variety of ways on offense.
“It’s a credit to him for buying in to what we’re trying to do with him,” DeFilippo said. “I told him that from the first day I met him, because I had watched him on tape and saw the explosiveness in the first three-and-a-half games [in 2017].
“I said, ‘We need to find as many ways as we can to get this guy the football,’ and I think you saw on the first drive of the game [at Green Bay], we ran the double-wide receiver screen, where he was an option there,” DeFilippo continued. “They gave us better leverage to [Adam Thielen’s] side, so we threw it to Adam for a gain of 9, but he was involved on the other side of that play, as well.”
Cook called it “fun” when he has the opportunity to line up on the outside.
“Especially when I saw the linebacker run out there with me, I knew Kirk was coming to me,” Cook said in reference to a play that gained 24 yards in the second quarter. “When you’ve got a quarterback who trusts you as much as he trusts me – I love it.”
DeFilippo emphasized Cook’s potential in the passing game while reminding that he still is a full-time running back and that will be his main role.
The coordinator said he would have liked to have more rush attempts against Green Bay but that it was “how the game played out” when penalties put the offense behind the chains or Minnesota was playing from two scores back.
“We are trying to run the football, trying to stay patient with it,” DeFilippo said. “The first half, I thought we had some good runs that got called back. You get to the first-and-20, you have to throw it a little bit. … I think it was more of a situational deal on Sunday.”
Cook said the Vikings offense “took a step” in an effective run game in Week 2 despite having a lower number of yards.
“We kept the Packers honest,” Cook said. “They respected the run enough for those guys to get 1-on-1 coverage, for those guys to get behind the defense. They respected it enough, I think. We just have to keep striving.”
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer likewise wants the ground game to make strides.
At the end of the day, though, it’s the end goal that matters most.
“We want to get more out of the running game,” Zimmer said. “But we’ll do whatever we have to do to win.”