Vikings' Dalvin Cook follows the formula in getting the best of Packers' defense
GREEN BAY - On Sunday, Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur acknowledged the “formula’s been written” regarding how to handle his team.
Consider Dalvin Cook the mathematician who first penned it.
In a one-score game at Lambeau Field, Cook shed tackles and outran improper angles to the tune of 154 yards on 20 carries back on Sept. 15, 2019. The Packers won that game, and though the formula was tried quite often the rest of that season it wasn’t perfected until San Francisco rolled up 285 rushing yards while throwing it just eight times in the NFC title game on Jan. 19.
In the 2020 season, though, the Packers’ ability to score at the start of every game had helped perhaps keep the blueprint from being highlighted on the board. Cook was held to 50 rush yards in the opener and opponents found themselves diverging away from the run as the Packers scored early and often.
But in Sunday’s 28-22 upset of the Packers in Green Bay, Minnesota offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak went with what is known to work: Run Dalvin Cook, and stay with him.
The Vikings handed it off to Cook 30 times for 163 yards and three touchdowns, and then handed it off another four times for good measure when he had to take a breather. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who had thrown 10 interceptions in his first six games, passed just 14 times.
“We know he’s been believing in us all year but just to have him in that room with us, tremendous leader,” Cook said of Kubiak, adding that the former Super Bowl-winning head coach gave the offense a speech Saturday night emphasizing his belief in the run game. “As much confidence as he has in us, hats off to those guys for believing in the run game (Sunday).
And Cook and his blocking group were sublime in response to that vote of confidence. Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith was single-blocked by tight end Irv Smith Jr. on Cook’s 21-yard touchdown run that made it 7-7 and prevented the Packers from going up two scores.
“He was telling me that things would open up on the back side and (fullback C.J. Ham) told me too and I saw it and it was daylight from there,” Cook said of that play.
Krys Barnes? Single-blocked by fullback Ham while Rashan Gary and Tyler Lancaster were double teamed by offensive linemen on a 1-yard run that made it 14-14 to head into halftime, the cap on four consecutive runs inside the 20.
Kubiak did not panic or deviate from his plan after each Packers score, instead letting Cook continue to work the equation. He carried it 13 times in the first half and the Vikings responded after each Packers touchdown drive in the first half.
The Packers were surgical on offense in the first half also, but the defense could not get them the stop needed to follow their own well-set plan of playing from ahead.
“When they go down and score on the first drive, it kind of gets some of the momentum out of you,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer acknowledged. “But when you go right down and score, it’s, ‘OK, it’s going to be a ballgame.’ That was really good. That was big of our offense. I thought Kubiak did an outstanding job (Sunday).”
The Vikings then took the lead in the third quarter thanks to two third-down pass-interference penalties on corners Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, with Cook putting the Vikings up 21-14 with a 1-yard run.
Then on Cook’s game-winning, 50-yard catch-and-mostly-run screen pass that resulted in a touchdown, Vikings center Garrett Bradbury wiped out Barnes, guard Dakota Dozier took out corner Chandon Sullivan, tackle Ezra Cleveland cleared out Darnell Savage Jr. and Adrian Amos was walled off by a receiver. Cook then left rookie safety Vernon Scott lurching at air.
Even when Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine countered with keeping linebackers Barnes and Kamal Martin on the field and bringing secondary help down more quickly, the Vikings managed just enough offense to make the clock their friend as Aaron Rodgers tried to come back.
“Anytime Dalvin plays that well, you’ve got to look at what C.J. Ham did, what our tight ends did blocking and what our o-line did, and then you’ve got to look at our coaches and the run plays they put together, which were really well-designed and I think kept Green Bay off-balanced for most of the game,” Cousins said.
Cook became the first player in the history of Lambeau Field to total over 200 yards from scrimmage and reach the end zone four times. He also became just the fifth player to score four touchdowns in the stadium, and the third opponent. The running back totaled 226 yards of total offense on 33 touches, good for 69.7% of the Vikings’ total output for the game.
For LaFleur and Pettine, it’s not a good feeling seeing the formula proved yet again.
“We knew exactly what they were going to do in terms of they were going to ride him and also just with the conditions out there, it was pretty windy and we never put them in a situation where they had to drop back and throw the football – or at least not too many times,” LaFleur said. “That’s something that we better get it fixed, and we better get it fixed fast because I have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen on a short week on Thursday in San Francisco as well.”