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NOTEBOOK: Vikings Offensive Focus vs Bears is Getting Run Game Going

EAGAN, Minn. — The last time the Vikings and Bears met, Minnesota rushed 14 times for just 22 yards at Soldier Field in Week 11, an average of 1.57 yards per carry that is its lowest in 2018.

Yes, the Vikings had fewer attempts (six) and fewer yards (14) in Week 3 against Buffalo, but the offense gained two-plus yards per attempt on that day.

Against the Bears, the Vikings longest run was just seven yards by running back Dalvin Cook.

"It's hard to run the football, period," Cook said Thursday afternoon. "The Bears, they have a bunch of great guys on defense, and they're playing at a high level right now."

As the teams prepare to meet again Sunday in Minnesota, the Vikings can secure a playoff spot on the line with a victory over their division rival.

It's safe to say they will need to run the ball better than they did the first time around to have a chance. Chicago currently ranks second in rushing defense at 81.1 yards allowed per game.

"It's us going out there and being more physical and smarter than them," Cook said. "It's not a secret or a trick of what we've got to do … we just have to be more physical and be smarter."

The Vikings could lead on Cook, who has 576 rushing yards in 10 games, but has 209 rushing yards and two scores in the past two weeks against Miami and Detroit.

The 2017 second-round pick, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury last season and dealt with a hamstring issue earlier this year, said he's feeling more like himself than at any point before.

"I'm back. I'm grateful to be back and blessed to be back and am just happy I'm around playing at a high level," Cook added. "Keep doing things right and keep sticking to my routine, and everything will turn out OK.

"I knew it was going to come … me finding my rhythm and getting back to how I run the football and the way I run the football. It's just different from anybody else in the NFL … I've got my own type of style," Cook added. "I knew it was going to come back. It was me getting the reps and fine-tuning in practice. As the weeks progressed, as I got healthy enough, I started to feel how I need to feel."

Vikings Interim Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski rattled off the ways that makes the 23-year-old an impressive player.

"He is a special talent. God gifted him with some unique physical tools. I think you'd start probably with his feet are pretty impressive," Stefanski said. "I remember seeing him in his first practice out there and just seeing how his feet moved. There's only a few guys who look like that. He's a physically gifted kid.

"I give him a ton of credit coming off the injury, just worked his tail off in the training room and just worked so hard with Coach [Kennedy] Polamalu in the run game, in the pass game, in protection," Stefanski added. "The kid is working really hard. You are seeing the benefits of that on game day."

As Minnesota's season looms in the balance on Sunday, the Vikings said it was simply time to put up or shut up in the run game in the biggest game of the 2018 campaign.

"The confidence is there. We've got the confidence. We just have to go do it," Cook said. "We've got to go out there and put it all together and play a full game. You see that if we do that, what type of outcome there can be."

Added Vikings tight end David Morgan: "It's a playoff mindset now. We know what we have to do and that's to win. Talk is only so good, at some point you have to put the pads on and go out and play football. I know these guys in here aren't much for talking. We like to get out and compete and get after people."

Source of inspiration

The video replays of Kyle Rudolph's 44-yard touchdown catch on a Hail Mary play as the first half expired in Detroit last week have circled the web and back.

Rudolph, however, was privy to another video this week that inspired him.

"I got a video from one of the girls in the hospital just jumping around her room and how excited she was when I caught the ball," said Rudolph, who is heavily involved in supporting the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital. "It's pretty cool when you see the patients, and I always hear from them that they're watching every week. It's good that we can shine a little light, and they're always more happy when we win, so we're going to try to do that this week."

Stefon Diggs, who was involved in another famous Vikings touchdown in January, said he was impressed by the effort.

"It was crazy, because I was watching the whole time, and he looked so huge, so strong catching the ball," Diggs said. "I could never do that, so I was kind of amazed. I've never seen a Hail Mary work, either, for my team. I've seen it for other teams, but that was dope. I was just happy for him."

Fantasy advice

Adam Thielen already has far exceeded his career bests and will enter Sunday's regular-season finale with 110 receptions (fourth in the NFL), 1,335 yards (eighth) and nine touchdowns (tied for seventh).

Thielen did an amazing amount of damage early in the season and has drawn multiple defenders. His season has nine 100-yard games, a Vikings single-season record, and three games with fewer than 30 yards since Nov. 4.

Thielen was asked if he's gotten razzed about the yardage dropping late in the season from fantasy football owners.

"I take a lot of heat now for not having high-yardage games because of fantasy football, especially during the playoffs," Thielen said. "I tell all of my friends and family not to draft me, so I don't have to worry about it. Just draft someone else."

Injury Reports

For the Vikings: C.J. Ham (elbow), Eric Kendricks (hamstring), Xavier Rhodes (groin), Chad Beebe (hamstring) and Marcus Sherels (foot) did not participate. Linval Joseph (knee), Mike Remmers (back) and Tom Compton (shoulder) were limited. Anthony Barr (shoulder) and David Morgan (knee) were full participants.

For the Bears: Eddie Jackson (ankle), Aaron Lynch (elbow), Allen Robinson II (ribs) and DeAndre Houston-Carson (illness) did not participate. Bilal Nichols (knee) was limited.