It’s come time for Gary Kubiak and his 2019 offensive Viking machine to show dividends when the chips–meaning starting running backs–are down. In their Week 16 rematch against the Green Bay Packers, it will.
After Dalvin Cook was declared out for Monday night’s game against Green Bay, Vikings’ head coach Mike Zimmer was asked about whether he thought that Cook’s understudy, Alex Mattison, was far along in his recovery from a high ankle sprain to play.
The Vikings’ head coach answered with a familiar “he’s doing good,” and “there’s a chance, yeah.”
After hearing Zimmer say the same thing about Adam Thielen for well over a month, that means almost surely that Mattison is out also. That leaves a remaining RB unit of Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah, and fullback C.J. Ham.
Boy–it sure would be nice to see a guy like Khari Blasingame in that rotation, eh? Unfortunately, that young promising power back was snatched from the Vikings’ practice squad by the Tennessee Titans.
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Boone And Abdullah: The Book
Mike Boone gives the Vikings decent speed from the offensive backfield, but it’s “shuttle” quickness rather than long field striding.
At Boone’s pro day, he registered a vertical jump of 42 inches and a broad jump of 11 feet, 7 inches. Both would have ranked No. 1 among running backs at the 2018 combine. He also ran the 40 in 4.44 seconds. No doubt coaches Gary Kubiak and offensive line coach Rick Dennsion like what he brings to the table physically.
At 5′ 10″, 206 lbs., the 24-year-old RB may be close to Dalvin Cook’s size, but he’s not a match to Cook’s elusive gap and open field talents. However, that doesn’t stop him from doing his best to duplicate Cook’s success as a player and teammate in 2019.
After leading the 2019 NFL preseason in rushing yards, Boone beat out former Detroit Lions first-round pick Ameer Abdullah for the third RB spot on the Vikings roster. Now it’s Cook and Abdullah in US Bank Stadium as running backs one and two against the immortal Green Bay Packers.
Abdullah, the one-time Lion is a small back at 5′ 9″, 203 lbs., but certainly knows a hole in the defense when he sees one. He doesn’t have the body to move the pile, but he catches the ball very well–maybe better than all the Vikings’ running backs–and is a fairly tough tackle in the open field.
Three Heads Are Better Than One
The Vikings’ game plan against Green Bay won’t be a simple one. The last time these teams played, Packers’ head coach Matt LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers dazzled Mike Zimmer’s defense with a brilliant parlay of power, misdirection and play-action vertical passing.
Look for Kevin Stefanski to wrangle some new principles from the Gary Kubiak offense to do some of the same on Monday night. Also be aware of how O-line coach Dennison may adopt protections and personnel to fit Boone and Abdullah better.
When Mike Zimmer says things like his offense will operate “pretty much the same” with different backs other than Dalvin Cook in the starting role, you can bet there will be changes. That’s just his thing to say.
Currently, the Packers’ defense has slipped to a pedestrian rank among NFL teams after starting the season at a surprisingly superlative pace. They are 23rd in total yards allowed per game (371), 24th against the run in yards allowed per game (121), per-carry average (4.6), and rushing touchdowns allowed on the season (14).
The Vikings coaches kept five running backs for a reason in 2019. One of those reasons was the fact that their season stratagem was to run the ball often. The second was for situations like this where those coaches could depend on the depth of their platoon.
That situation has clearly arisen. I think Minnesota fans will be both relieved and exhilarated to know that the Vikings’ running back room has both a team–and a system–behind them when they hit the US Bank field in a few days.