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Presser Points: Pared-Down Playbook Boots Effectiveness

EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings may have slimmed the offensive playbook a bit for their game against the Dolphins, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t get creative.

In his first game as Minnesota’s interim offensive coordinator, Kevin Stefanski helped guide an offense that scored five touchdowns and developed an effective balance between the run and pass that kept Miami’s defense on its toes.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked during his Monday press conference if the “biggest difference” for the offense was simplifying things and enabling the players to play more freely.

“I think they were confident going into the ball game,” Zimmer said.

He added that while some things were pared down, the offense ran the same plays more than once but tweaked them to keep the Dolphins guessing.

“We ran one play 10 times but with 10 different variations,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes that’s what it is, too. You format it differently and you give them a different look so they can’t key on one thing, but you’re basically running the same play.”

One of the areas in which Minnesota was successful was on play-action.

Previously, the Vikings had struggled to find any real success there, and Zimmer acknowledged that being able to establish a consistent running game enabled the play-action calls to be more convincing.

“It helps when you run the football. They were crowding the line of scrimmage, so that helped a little bit,” Zimmer said.

“And the touchdown to [Stefon] Diggs, the corner had bad eyes,” Zimmer added. “He was looking inside at the runner and the quarterback, so when you catch guys doing that, you can take advantage of it.”

Here are four other topics Zimmer talked about during his session with Twin Cities media members:

1. Cookin’ on second down

Of Dalvin Cook’s 19 carries against the Dolphins, six of them were on second down. Five of the second-down rushes were on second-and-more-than-8, including a second-and-20 and second-and-19. Cook gained 10 yards apiece on the second-and-20 and second-and-19.

Was there an emphasis on using Cook for second-and-long situations? If it works, why stop?

“He was getting about 10 on them,” Zimmer responded. “They gave us some good looks running the ball on some of those down and distances. When you [have those], you have an opportunity to hit some of those things.

“When Dalvin gets it with open space, sometimes without even open space, he makes a lot of players miss,” Zimmer added. “He’s got great feet, great acceleration, catches the ball well and really, his vision is outstanding, so it’s all of those things. There were a couple of other runs there where I thought he was going to bust – he was really close. So, want to try to get him the ball a lot.”

As a follow-up question, Zimmer was asked if Cook benefits from plays when quarterback Kirk Cousins is under center.

“I really think that Dalvin can run from the [shotgun formation] or from under center,” Zimmer said. “I think some plays are just a little bit better under center than they are from the gun, but he can really do both really well.”

2. A maturing Mackensie

Since being drafted by the Vikings in 2016, cornerback Mackensie Alexander has matured both on and off the field, according to Zimmer.

He said the maturity level has helped Alexander’s progression as a player “a lot.”

“He was pretty immature when he first got here,” Zimmer said with a laugh. “But he’s grown up a lot. He spends a lot of time studying now, a lot of time with Terence [Newman] and [Defensive Coordinator George Edwards] and [defensive backs coach Jerry Gray], and really, he’s been playing very well.”

Alexander recorded his fourth sack of the season Sunday, which set a franchise record for sacks by a defensive back in a single season.

“Well, shoot, he doesn’t get blocked,” Zimmer quipped. “If you don’t get blocked, he should have an asterisk [for that record].”

3. Robinson’s TD ratio has ‘worked out that way’

It seems like all Aldrick Robinson does is score.

The receiver has 17 catches on the season, and five have been for touchdowns.

“I hope he keeps getting them,” Zimmer said.

The Vikings signed Robinson in September, and Zimmer reminded that part of the reasoning was the fact that he previously played with Cousins in Washington.

“We did feel like we [needed] a little bit more vertical threat, so that was part of it,” Zimmer said. “[But] if it would have been somebody a little slower, we probably would have liked him, too. I mean, it just worked out that way.”

4. Sharing the wealth

Against Miami, seven different Vikings caught passes.

Zimmer said they’ve been trying to get multiple players involved and making an impact on both sides of the ball.

“[We’re] doing it defensively, as well – some of the defensive linemen snaps are down,” Zimmer pointed out of the rotation up front. “I’m trying to get them fresh in the fourth quarter. The more pieces you can put in there and run similar things, I think it’s good because they’re scouting when [Kyle] Rudolph’s in or whatever, when [Laquon] Treadwell’s in opposed to Robinson.”

Added Zimmer: “Having guys that are versatile that can do a lot of things is important.”

5. Offensive line mentality

Zimmer has noted on several occasions that he appreciates the group mentality of Minnesota’s offensive line.

Asked if it’s beneficial to have that attitude specifically in from the linemen, Zimmer said, “It’s a little bit of a mindset.”

“If you go back and look at last year, we ran the ball a lot, and we had the mindset that ‘We’re going to be a physical football team,’ ” Zimmer explained. “A team that doesn’t beat themselves, [are] smart and play good defense and good on special teams, and I thought we did that yesterday. It was pretty good.”

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