The Minnesota Vikings played their best game of the season on Sunday against the Dolphins, winning convincingly, 41-17. Perhaps the biggest reason for this was a re-commitment to a game-plan that suits a team that leads with defense.
I’m happy that after the huge Minnesota Vikings victory over the Dolphins, Mike Zimmer did not give a game ball in the locker room to new offensive coordinator, Kevin Stefanski. They say the Vikings’ head coach is a tough guy, but I find him often a little soft in the heart when it comes to symbols of accolade.
Kirk Cousins was abysmal in Chicago (QB rating of 76.5), but in returning to Minnesota to beat the Packers by a touchdown, Zimmer plants one of his ‘game balls’ in the QB’s chest. In consecutive weeks, Cousins proceeds to play the two worst games of his career, in New England (70.4), and in Seattle (89).
I like to see game balls given out when a team wins against the odds, takes a division title or a playoff game–not after beating a below-average opponent on the home turf, despite a critically beleaguered signal-caller putting up good numbers.
Let’s keep Kevin Stefanski in his office, designing his next install. He did well on Sunday, but now’s not the time for praise.
However, Zimmer did give out a game ball after the Miami win, and, in a big way, it was for a win against the odds. At least the odds working against the Vikings this season. It went squarely in the spot where Minnesota had been sorest, where they had seen blow-after-blow by the NFL press and their own fan base.
Their own offensive line. And it was deserved.
Second-year center Pat Elflein took this game ball from his coach to a round of cheers, hugged it into his arm, and as his teammates crowded into his raised fist, Elflein said with certain declaration: “On three-pound the beef!”
On three, the team roared after him: “Pound the beef!”
Pound the beef, indeed. On Sunday the Vikings ran the ball 40 times for 220 yards and three touchdowns against Miami. Sure, the Dolphins’ run defense is not exactly the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, but considering the lack of success the Minnesota Vikings have had against even mediocre teams, it sure seemed like something got into them. They pounded the Fins into canned tuna.
Learning From Mistakes
When a writer from Sports Illustrated called the recently fired John DeFilippo “one of the game’s young and innovative aerial designers”, we should have known it was a mistake to try to graft him onto a football team that leads by a system defense. But both the Vikings’ front office and fan base thought we had the next Sean McVay in town, and we got caught up in the hype of a certain ‘QB guru’ and the shine from that Lombardi trophy being held high at U.S. Bank Stadium after Super Bowl LII.
The Vikings are a team built to win patiently. The defense bends and holds the goal line very well, but fails when it is asked to compensate for a flagging offense. When your entire offensive stratagem revolves around two guys (and one of those guys is not named Randy Moss), somebody is gonna get wise in this league.
After Adam Thielen’s remarkable run into the records books with eight 100-yard games, he’s been taken away but savvy defensive coordinators and combination zone defenses. Meanwhile, Stefon Diggs has played well if not at a game-breaking level. The only other guys contributing have been TE Kyle Rudolph and WR Aldrick Robinson.
With an offensive line that struggles to hold up against even decent NFL pass rushers, you just don’t have enough physical talent to win games.
But you do have enough talent to pound the beef.
This offensive line can downblock. It can move, and it certainly can create creases for a talented running back. Or two. What has been lacking is either the confidence, stratagem, or ambition to design a game using the running attack as the first line of offense.
‘When attacking the (line) scrum, a superior running back has to be both a tactician and a fierce athlete. Cook checks both boxes. He has the ability to ‘get skinny’ in a crease, displays a ‘one-cut and North’ step with Hall-of-Fame aptitude, and almost always comes out balanced and footloose on the other side of the line.’
Ironically, after all the hand-wringing and hair pulled out, the Minnesota Vikings may have found a way to make all their dreams come true. Run to set up the pass. Run to set up the play-action. Run with misdirection, with pulling linemen, in power formation and in trap sets.
All of a sudden, Diggs is wide open in the end zone (see Sunday). Thielen is running free towards a sideline. Rudolph is open in the middle of the field.
Pound the beef. Pin your ears back. Run the ball down their throats–whatever.
It could work. It could also get that game ball to Kevin Stefanski in the NFL playoffs.