Are the Vikings better now than they were in 2017?
Following a 13-3 season with an 8-7-1 one is never easy for a franchise and its fans, especially after doling out a massive contract to a free-agent quarterback. But just one year later, the Vikings have found a way to return to the NFL’s list of elite teams.
This essay with not be a rehash of all moves made in the 2019 off-season. Instead, it will concentrate on two gentlemen that seem obvious to the argument of the Minnesota Vikings’ success this year; running back Dalvin Cook and new offensive coach and advisor to Mike Zimmer, Gary Kubiak.
Let’s begin by speaking about how these two gentlemen came together.
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After Dalvin Cook’s ACL tear in 2017, the Vikings, then at 2-2, had to learn to live without him. For OC Pat Schumer, it was quite the riddle to figure out how to produce a ground game that kept defenses safe with a shaky offensive line and two veteran running backs whose styles of power and speed were hardly in uniform.
Schumer did it by just doing it. Though they averaged only 3.9 yards a carry, the Vikings offense lead the league in rushing attempts with 501 and set up a gritty air attack that featured Second Team All -Pro WR Adam Thielen in grinding out the 10th-ranked total offense in the league.
In tandem with the top-ranked Minnesota defense, a backup QB and two backup RBs took the team to the NFC Championship Game.
Mike Zimmer did not forget that kind of success as 2018 began without Schumer at the offensive playsheet and his replacement, John DeFilippo attempted to hodge-podge a part-time run game with an aerial attack he thought suited to Kirk Cousins, Thielen, and his game-breaking partner, Stefon Diggs.
It was a disaster that Zimmer regretted and vowed not to repeat while he was head coach of this team. As his mentor, Bill Parcells had done 30 years before when he was a young coach of the New York Giants, Zimmer would do it “his way”, or not at all.
Zimmer’s way was a trip back to the Old School when it came to offensive football, led by coaches that understood its ultimate value to an offense–and a defense in winning games.
Though they anointed long-time assistant coach Kevin Stefanski the title of offensive coordinator, they called on Gary Kubiak to design their game.
Much has been said about Kubiak’s chest of offensive blueprints. What has not been said enough is the power they possess as a whole. Although it is the wide-zone run that has established the Vikings as the best rushing team that’s not using a running quarterback, Kubiak’s breadth of formations that utilize numerous plays and playmakers has been understated.
For instance, once the zone run had placed the Vikings offense on several defensive drawing boards to configure stops, it was Kubiak’s expertise in misdirection that sprung the Minnesota offense into a different direction. The Viking offensive tree had grown a new arm, perplexing the opposition in an undefeated October for the team.
Now 8-3, with just one last-second loss in Kansas City coming through their last seven games, the Vikings have settled into a role as a run-first hybrid of both the vertical and short passing game–without Pro Bowl WR Adam Thielen, still out with a hamstring injury.
This Recipe Has Its Cook
There is no more deadly screen game in the NFL than that perpetrated through the last two months by the Minnesota Vikings. With running back Dalvin Cook fully healed from his 2017 ACL injury, there is no back harder to bring down behind a young and athletic Viking line than this third-year veteran from Florida State.
To say Dalvin Cook and Gary Kubiak were made for each other is fair enough, but what is more fitting here is the fact that they were made for what ailed the 2018 Minnesota Vikings; a team with an offense so predictable that it seemed sometimes to signal its game designs and play calls to defenses on the other side of the ball.
This season, even when the Vikings’ line simply executes push-blocks without getting out into their wide-zone paces, Cook has shown an aptitude to make a crack a hole and a hole a potential drive or game-changing run. He is the prototype tailback that was lost to this team early in 2017 and found himself hindered by injury and over-attention a year later.
The Tools And The Talent
In 2019, with Kubiak and Stefanski calling the shots, Cook is both the shotgun and sniper of the Minnesota offense, depending on the circumstances. Even without success, opponents are wary of his every move on the field, falling into the snare of Kirk Cousin’s expert play-action passing.
In a season where the Viking defense has been less reliable than the one that led the league in 2017, it still bends without breaking and has also given the ball back to its offense with a chance to win their contests throughout the year.
This offense, in turn, is now a fairly unpredictable one, yet does not have to rely on pure guile to win games. They can beat you at the punch, on the run, and even with a rabbit coming out of the hat of a misdirection scrum.
The rabbit is Mr. Cook, the magician Mr. Kubiak, and the performance even better than 2017 when this team was close to being in the biggest show of all.