EAGAN, Minn. — The mantra began back in January, even as far back as Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's season-ending press conference to recap the 2018 season.
On Jan. 3, Zimmer proclaimed that the Vikings would look to establish an identity in the run game going forward, moving away from a year in which Minnesota passed the ball on 64.41 percent of its offensive plays — the fourth-most in the NFL.
Two games into the 2019 season, the Vikings have heeded Zimmer's message, as Minnesota currently is tied for second in the NFL with 185.0 rushing yards per game. Dalvin Cook leads the league with 265 yards and three touchdowns, while rookie Alexander Mattison has 74 yards on just 13 carries.
Count Kyle Rudolph as a fan of how the Vikings have performed on the ground thus far.
"It's good. Anytime you spend an entire offseason making something a point of emphasis, it's always good to come out early in the year and see that work pay off, whether it's Dalvin, Matty — all those guys, they're so talented," Rudolph added. "We know as blockers that if you give them a chance, it could be a 75-yard run, an 85-yard run.
"You just have to eliminate your guy," Rudolph added. "Obviously, we can't block all of them, but those guys are so good at making the first guy miss, making two or three guys tackle them, or it's a home run."
Yet as the Vikings get ready to welcome the Raiders to town this Sunday, opportunities have been few and far between for Minnesota's pass catchers. That's evident by the fact that the Vikings rank dead last in the league with a pass percentage of 40.37.
While that stat is skewed by the fact the Vikings attempted just 10 passes in a Week 1 win, you won't hear Minnesota's skill players in the passing game complaining.
Instead, the likes of Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Rudolph have preached patience despite the trio combining for just 14 receptions for 213 yards and two touchdowns in two games.
"When you have the ability to run the football like we can right now, you have to capitalize on the few opportunities you're going to get in the pass game," Thielen said. "Those plays are usually going to be big plays and probably the difference in the ballgame.
"For us on the outside, we have to make sure we make the most of our opportunities because we want to continue running the ball and win games doing that," Thielen added. "To do that and to be able to win games, you have to make plays when you get opportunities."
Added Rudolph: "When it comes, we'll be ready. I can't tell you when that will be. But when it comes, we'll be ready. I feel like I stand up here every week and tell you guys that whenever my time in the pass game is called, I'll be ready and I'll make sure I make the most of it. But until then, if I have to protect Kirk and block in the run game, there are other things I can do to help this team win games. Then, when the opportunities come in the pass game, I've got to convert."
Perhaps the breakout game for the Vikings passing attack comes Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium against a Raiders defense that currently ranks last in the NFL with 342.5 passing yards allowed per game.
But as Vikings players alluded to Thursday, that number is a bit skewed by Oakland's second-quarter performance in Week 2 in which the Raiders allowed Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to throw for 278 yards and four touchdowns.
View practice photos from Sept. 18 as the Vikings get ready for the Raiders matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Outside of that 15-minute span, Mahomes had 165 passing yards and no touchdowns.
"It's a little deceiving when you look at the box score and see the giant numbers. What's lost in it is that the Raiders played really good defense for three quarters," Rudolph said. "Go back to their first game against Denver, and they played really good defense that whole game.
"So, you look at seven out of eight quarters, and they've played really tough and sound defense," Rudolph added. "They gave up a lot of big plays in that second quarter, but that's not who they are. You take those out and this is a really good defense, and that's how we've had to prepare this week."
Added Thielen: "That quarterback (Mahomes) is pretty special creating time and looking down the field when he leaves the pocket. Other than that, though, those guys were on those receivers. A lot of the short routes they were all over them. It's a good defense; they've got guys outside that can play and are going to be in your face all day."
Through two games, Minnesota ranks last in total pasting attempts (42) and 31st in passing yards with 320.
"We're running the ball pretty well," Zimmer said. "People are going to continue to try to load up against it, which hopefully will open up some things in the passing game.
"The passing game's still a little work in progress, but we're hoping that we start clicking here pretty soon," Zimmer added.
Dalvin Cook Voted FedEx Ground Player of the Week
Dalvin Cook has made his presence felt across the league two weeks in a row.
Cook was voted as the FedEx Ground Player of the Week after his outing at Green Bay where he racked up 154 rushing yards and a touchdown.
The 75-yard score was a career-long run for Cook, who also added three catches for 37 receiving yards during the Border Battle in which the Vikings fell short.
Cook was chosen by fan voting over the week's other two nominees, Green Bay's Aaron Jones and Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott. He also was nominated after an explosive Week 1 performance but did not emerge as the winner.
As part of the honor, FedEx will donate $2,000 to The USO in Cook's name.
Rudolph recalls 1st TD vs. Raiders
Kyle Rudolph currently ranks first in franchise history among tight ends with 41 career touchdowns, a number that ranks fifth among all Vikings players.
But Rudolph's scoring prowess started way back in Week 11 of his rookie season in 2011, when he scored his first career touchdown at home against the Raiders.
"That was a long time ago," Rudolph quipped.
With Oakland coming to town Sunday, Rudolph recalled the 1-yard pass from Christian Ponder.
"I remember the defense that we played against, [it seemed like] all 11 guys were first-round picks," Rudolph said. "They had a pretty good defense, but yeah, my first touchdown was against the Raiders in 2011.
"Just a naked [bootleg], I came under the formation and was able to catch a touchdown down around the goal line," Rudolph added.
The tight end was close on the bevy of talent on Oakland's roster, as eight of 11 starters were drafted in the first or second round.
View images of past games between the Raiders and the Vikings.
Thielen honors 1969 Vikings
Adam Thielen honored one of the best Vikings teams in franchise history Thursday by wearing a 1969 Vikings T-shirt to his podium session.
The Vikings first Super Bowl team — recently ranked as the No. 2 season in team history — will be honored at halftime of Sunday's game to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that season.
While Thielen obviously wasn't around back then — he was born in 1990 — the Minnesota native still learned about the Purple People Eaters and a punishing defense that led the NFL by allowing just 9.5 points per game.
"Obviously, I didn't get to watch them play. But my family was fans back then," Thielen said. "My grandpa, I don't think he ever missed a Vikings or Twins game in his life.
"He definitely told me stories and things like that," Thielen added. "I think it will be pretty cool to see them there and see some of those guys that really started this organization and really created a foundation for us."