RB Dalvin Cook Leads Vikings Offense into Kansas City in Week 9
The Vikings’ offense is centered around a strong run game, paced by running back Dalvin Cook, who leads the league in both rushing yardage and touchdowns. The strong run game and a play-action passing game run by quarterback Kirk Cousins are the hallmarks of the offense. Receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are a formidable pass-catching duo, although Thielen is battling a hamstring injury.
The running game mainly consists of stretch runs, which allows Cook to spread out the defense and pick a running lane. If he is unable to get the edge with these runs, he will look for a cutback lane behind a defender who over pursued. Cook offers a great blend of power and speed . He excels in this offense that allows him to make one cut and get up field quickly.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins and the passing game experienced a resurgence of late after Thielen publicly criticized the offense. Cousins thrives in throwing short-to-intermediate passes, completing the easy throws that boost his completion percentage and limit the opportunity to make mistakes. He's completing 72.1 percent of his passes on the season with 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Cousins favors mainly slants, crossers, hitches and quick outs to his receivers while mixing in a few screens to the running backs and tight ends.
Thielen, tied for the league-lead in receiving touchdowns, uses his quick change of direction, speed and crafty route running to get separation. Diggs is No. 4 in receiving yards in the NFL this season. The Vikings will get him the ball on slants and curls while also taking the occasional deep shot down the sidelines to him.
Cook is also a dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield. He catches the majority of his passes on screens and short passes in the flats or in the middle of the field, but his ability as a runner makes him a big yards after catch threat.
Stopping The Offense
The key to stopping the Vikings is probably one of the more commonly used phrases in football; make them one-dimensional. The running game is the real threat in this offense, so the Chiefs need to sell out to stop the run and force Cousins to beat them.
That means they need to have gap discipline and good backside pursuit on the stretch runs. The backside defensive end on these runs has to come straight down the line of scrimmage and take away the cut back lane, forcing Cook to stretch the ball towards the sideline giving him less space to break out for a big gain. The linebackers have to be aggressive attacking the run, clogging up the gaps and forcing Cook to dance around in the backfield looking for an opening. Broken tackles on Cook can lead to long touchdown runs.
The offensive line, however, doesn’t generate a ton of push while run blocking. Rookie center Garrett Bradbury struggles to stay with a block when the defender swats his hands away and uses a swim move to get past him. Both guards don’t play with the strength necessary to hold their ground against a bull rush and can get driven into the backfield. Defensive lineman Chris Jones has a chance to dominate whoever is across the line of scrimmage from him.
The Chiefs defense grinding the run game to a halt is key to victory. While the Vikings' possess a strong and explosive receiving corps, the triggerman for the offense has a tendency to shrink with pressure on him. Cousins holds on to the ball for far too long if his passing windows are cloudy, so the Chiefs can mix in tight man coverage with some zone schemes that drop defenders into some of his quick-throwing windows. When Cousins holds the ball, he gets happy feet and grows impatient, looking to force the ball somewhere. Kansas City must disguise their coverage pre-snap for this to work.
Along with the disguised coverages, Cousins needs to see a heavy dose of blitzing and pressure. The offensive line, particularly the right side, doesn’t handle twists very well. Right guard Josh Kline falls victim to defensive linemen that can execute a push/pull technique, due to his poor footwork. Bradbury struggles to anchor against a good bull rush, and is much better when he is able to help the guards double team someone rather than being asked to block one on one. The Chiefs don’t have to get home with all of their blitzes, they just need to make Cousins feel pressured so he will make mistakes.