Dalvin Pounds H-Town

Image courtesy of Vikings.com and Andy Kenutis

The Vikings defense showed stretches of maturity-on-the-fly in Week 4 at Houston. Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson hauled in over 100 receiving yards apiece – the first time a pair of Vikings wideouts have done so since Week 8 of the 2018 season.

Kirk Cousins had the type of afternoon for which the Vikings specifically pay him — make a few big throws and limit turnovers. And, Minnesota did not turn the ball over on offense.

All of those aspects of the Texans game were swell, but Dalvin Cook was the money-man, an apropos title for the 25-year-old that just signed a five-year, $65 million contract extension. Cook was showcased profusely at NRG Stadium and why not? He pummeled the Texans front seven – and others – to the tune of 4.8 yards per carry. All told, the fourth-year Vikings tailback was handed the ball 27 times for 130 yards and two touchdowns.

His second touchdown, notched with under two minutes go in the first half, was one of the finest and most memorable of his career. Cook powered his way into the endzone after some agility and blunt-force stregth to give the Vikings a brief 17-6 lead.

Cook’s performance wasn’t superhuman or unprecedented. Yet, staring down the barrel of an 0-4 start, Minnesota’s halfback proved invaluable.

One team in NFL history, the 1992 San Diego Chargers, has fought back to reach the postseason after an0-4 commencement to a season. Now, the Vikings can chip away at a 1-3 start and leave the 0-4 wretchedness to the Houston Texans.

We know that Dalvin Cook’s big day was instrumental, but what about it specifically kept the season afloat?

Time of Possession

Consider this role reversal. Through two weeks of the 2020 season, the Vikings possessed the football just one-third of the time in meetings with the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts. It was a thoroughly pathetic ordeal.

The tide turned last week at home versus the Tennessee Titans when Minnesota hadpossession of the football for nearly of half the game. Guess what? They nearly won.

In Week 4, it was the Texans that displayed the woefulness regarding time of possession. Houston only hung onto the ball for about 23 minutes, and this time, it was the Vikings that dictated the pace.

The credit for this turnaround is multifaceted — the defense got off the field more frequently than in weeks past, the Vikings offense avoided giveaways, and the running game was cooking.

Time of possession typically goes hand-in-hand with rushing the football, and that’s precisely what the Vikings served up in southeast Texas. Kirk Cousins was only asked to throw the ball 22 times while Cook, Alexander Mattison, and C.J. Ham were called upon a collective 40 times.

The offensive balance, ability to move the chains (the Vikings had 24 first downs), and Cook’s brilliance enable the Vikings to possess the football for north of 36 minutes.

Zimmer Ball, with a slight caveat

Time of possession domination will put a smile on any football coach’s kisser, but this is especially applicable to Mike Zimmer’s.

If you’re new to this, Zimmer subscribes to a theory of football that snatches a lead, plays staunch defense, hangs onto the football, and institutes a vanilla style of offense to effectively run out the clock. Most of that came true in Week 4, and the Vikings escaped with a down-to-the-wire victory.

The only footnote to Zimmer Ball this week was the up-and-down momentum of the defense. There were visible moments where the Vikings seemed to be improving their recently maligned defense.

Still, as the game tumbled into fourth-quarter incertitude, there was a pervasive sentiment that the Texans were going to tie the game or even win it. And, that came extremely close to fruition.

The win in Houston was one that adhered to most styles of Mike Zimmer football. The offense more than did its part – in years prior, this game would have been ended early on as a suffocating defense settled in.

However, that’s not what the Vikings are at the moment. They’re a team that will rely heavily on the aforementioned Cook, Kirk Cousins’ playmaking, and the trusty hands of Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson.

It would have also helped if the Vikings longest-tenured defensive player, Harrison Smith, was not ejected for a controversial hit.

A Better-Than-Adrian Pace

The easiest way to operationalize Zimmer Ball is for the running back to blaze an unholy rushing pace. Low and behold, that is what Minnesota is experiencing from Dalvin Cook. Through four games, Dalvin Cook is engineering the second-best rushing yards total in Minnesota Vikings history.

Only Robert Smith had more rushing yards through four weeks to kick off a season, and that was in 1997. Smith accrued 440 yards in four games that season, which tops Cook in 2020 by a mere 16 yards.

Therefore, not even Adrian Peterson authored this sexy of a start amid his decade with the Vikings. He was close. In 2013 – an ill-fated campaign for Minnesota – Peterson tallied 421 yards in the first four games. That’s just shy of Cook’s 424 yards in 2020.

Mike Zimmer’s defense is not quite living up to his stern expectations as of yet. Dalvin Cook and his pals will have to carry that side of the ball for the foreseeable future. And, it’s probably fair that they do so. Zimmer’s defense carried the team for the last six years up to this pandemic-riddled season.