Minnesota Needs A Dominant Rushing Attack Against The Lions

Justin Jefferson / Dalvin Cook
Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) and wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) celebrate Cook’s touchdown run in the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

One thing that may be getting lost in the shuffle is the current struggles of the Minnesota rushing attack. In theory, we’re a team built on strong defensive football and a potent rushing attack that allows our offense to control the clock. Through four games, we haven’t lived up to that identity.

A date with the Lions can hopefully fix this reality. Now, I ought to clarify what I mean. It isn’t just that I expect the Vikings to win – I do expect a win – but it’s also how they win. Do they need to scrape and claw for a narrow victory or are they dominant throughout the day? Does the defense generate pressure and show improved run defense? Does our offensive line show resilience and growth? Perhaps most importantly, what does the Minnesota rushing attack do?

On The Importance of The Minnesota Rushing Attack

It’s easy to play defense from the sidelines. When Minnesota’s offense is on the field, Minnesota’s defense doesn’t need to worry about surrendering points. For this reason (among others), Mike Zimmer wants his Vikings to control the time of possession. Unless a team is stacking up safeties, you can’t score unless you possess the ball. Minnesota therefore wants to ensure they’re the ones possessing the ball.

You do this by having a potent run game.

Unfortunately, the run game just hasn’t been there like we all expected. Currently, PFF has 59 running backs ranked in their system. Cook is 52nd and Mattison 54th. It’s safe to say that these rankings don’t reflect their abilities, but it’s still notable.

In three games, Cook has 51 carries, 226 rushing yards (4.4 YPC), and a TD. He has added ten catches for 70 yards. Mattison has been in on all four games. In that time, he has had 40 carries for 145 yards (3.6 YPC). He has 8 catches for 80 yards (he has underrated hands). Now, it’s a small sample size, and Cook is battling yet another injury. Moreover, both were playing behind a horrible OL in Week 4, significantly reducing both of their impact.

In Week 5, we’ve got a date with the Lions. On average, Detroit allows 132.8 rushing yards per game. They’ve also lost Romeo Okwara for the season, so their defense is even more depleted.

Minnesota needs to enter their Week 5 matchup with the aim of getting back to their central identity. Establish the run, use play action, play stifling defense. If they can do these things, the Detroit game will be over early. If they can’t, we’ll be in for another stressful week. It’s no exaggeration to say that it all begins with the Minnesota rushing attack. The Lions are surrendering just under 30 points per game. If Cook and Mattison are productive, we should easily surpass that 30 point benchmark.

Over six career games against Detroit, Cook averages just over 17 carries, 106.3 yards, and a TD. A similar day will lead to a great purple outcome on Sunday.