Dalvin Cook’s 70-yard run against the Lions on Sunday was the product of spotting a run blitz by the line, mobility by the right side of the line, top-notch speed in the open field and pounding the beef.
Pounding the beef?
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer implemented the colorful phrase last week when meeting with the team. He encouraged the offense to approach the Lions run defense like a meat-tenderizing mallet to a steak.
The visual became a rallying cry at practices, during the game and was even mentioned by Adam Thielen postgame when he was asked about the Vikings grinding out an NFC North victory.
“I think that’s kind of what this team is, grinders. There is a little bit of satisfaction [in winning like that],” Thielen said. “First of all, we ran the ball well. We’ve been talking about pounding the beef all week, so that felt good. Just grinding out a victory, there’s no better feeling than that.”
The phrase came up again on the weekly podcast hosted by quarterback Kirk Cousins and his longtime friend Kyle Schonewill.
Cousins provided background:
“Coach Zimmer came to us on Wednesday in the team meeting, and he always does a great job of narrowing down the plan to say, ‘This is what’s going to matter. This is what we have to focus on. We can’t be great at everything, so let’s focus on a few things and try to win the game in those areas.’
This week, he said, ‘The Lions have a lot of size up front, but we need to run the ball well. We need to churn the clock and run the ball.’ So, the term he used was, ‘We need to pound the beef,’ and we kind of looked at him quizzically and he said, ‘You know, like when you tenderize meat with a hammer. You pound it and soften it, and it enables you to have softer beef.’ He said, ‘We have to do that to the Lions defense, tenderize it, keep pounding until they break and we can run the football successfully.’
The rallying cry all week was, ‘Pound the beef!’ Every run play in practice, the linemen were yelling it. We were yelling it pregame, on the field, in the huddle. I had a quarterback sneak randomly, and the first thing they do, before they even help pick me up was, ‘Yeah, Kirk! Pound the beef!’
I don’t think Coach Zimmer intended for it to go as far as it did, but that may stick a while.”
Running back Latavius Murray, who was this week’s guest, said he thinks Zimmer picked up on how quickly players embraced the mantra.
“He had to catch it because we take everything over the top,” Murray said during the podcast.
Cook finished with 89 yards on 10 carries, and Murray added 31 yards on 10 attempts against a hefty front that has been both strong against the run on some plays and susceptible to getting gashed on others.
Back to the game-breaker, which center Pat Elflein explained after the game.
The offensive line saw Detroit go with three down linemen (DE Romeo Okwara and DTs Ricky Jean Francois and A’Shawn Robinson), stand up LB Devon Kennard opposite Okwara and bring safety Quandre Diggs to the line of scrimmage. Linebackers Jarrad Davis and Christian Jones are both to Elflein’s right.
“I saw the safety (Quandre Diggs) come down, and the Will linebacker pushed over to the right, and I knew we were running outside zone,” Elflein said. “I called the blitz out and knew everyone was on the same page, picked it up, and Dalvin does his deal and takes off.
“It was preparation and seeing those looks over and over again and picking them up and execution,” Riley [Reiff] saw it; he called it out. I echoed it down the line, and there [Cook] goes,” Elflein added.
Elflein is able to use Robinson’s desire to get up the field against the Lions, taking him well out of the play as Cook smoothly cuts through a substantial opening. Right tackle Brian O’Neill handles his 1-on-1 with Jean Francois, and left guard Danny Isidora keeps Okwara, the player closest to Cook near the line of scrimmage, from getting to the running back.
Right guard Mike Remmers is able to reach the second level to block Davis, and tight end Kyle Rudolph takes care of blocking Jones beyond the line of scrimmage. Laquon Treadwell blocked corner DeShawn Shead on Cook’s left.
Cook capitalizes on the open field and tops out at 22.07 mph.
“It just goes to show, when you have 11 men on one accord, good things can happen. And that’s what happened on that play,” Cook said. “Treadwell got on his block, Pat got on his block backside, tight ends were on their blocks, and I just hit it right down the middle, and it opened up.
“Once you get holes like that, you can’t hesitate,” Cook later added. “You’ve got to hit those holes because they don’t come around too often in the NFL.”