EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings steamrolled the Miami Dolphins on the ground last Sunday en route to a 41-17 win.
Running back Dalvin Cook took home NFC Offensive Player of the Week after cruising to 136 yards on just 19 carries and scored two touchdowns. He would have done even more damage if the Vikings hadn’t spread the wealth to Latavius Murray, who added 68 yards and a touchdown.
On Monday, head coach Mike Zimmer broke down how the Vikings took advantage of the Dolphins’ defense, especially with outside zone runs.
“They had a wide defensive end, so that was part of it,” he said. “Their linebackers were fast downhill sometimes out of their gaps so that gave us some opportunities on some of those things. We were able to cut them off and knock guys off to the back side and I thought we did a good job of getting to the second level. The double teams were good. I’m not trying to discredit how they play defense or anything like that, but they play a little different style upfront that if you can you can get some creases in there.”
Detroit’s overall numbers against the run aren’t particularly impressive. They allow 4.5 yards per carry and gave up a 70-yard touchdown run to Cook in the Vikings’ win at US Bank Stadium in early November. But in four of the last six games they have given up fewer than 70 yards on the ground.
“They are doing a much better job against the run, they’re physical inside,” Zimmer said.
That starts with the team’s two defensive tackles Damon Harrison and A’Shawn Robinson. Pro Football Focus grades Harrison the league’s best DT against the run and Robinson seventh.
Overall PFF grades the Lions’ run defense eighth in the NFL, just behind the Vikings.
“They cover the three-guards a lot, walk up [Devon] Kennard on the end of the line of scrimmage so they’re playing a four-down front but it’s really a three-four principles with what they’re doing,” Zimmer said. “The two safeties get involved. They’re good players. I think the two linebackers plug our guys pretty much. Have some physicality to them. They’re not giving them very many big runs.”
In their first matchup this year, the Vikings did not beat Detroit on the ground for most of the game, gaining just 48 yards on 22 carries aside from Cook’s 70-yard burst.
“We know how stout they are inside,” Cook said. “They have a bunch of guys in there to stop the run and they do a good job of that. We have to do a good job of focusing in and making plays because they don’t give up a lot of big plays in the run.”
Cook is correct. The Lions have only allowed nine rushes of more than 20 yards. There are 21 teams who have allowed more explosive runs than Detroit.
Regardless of whether the Vikings’ run game works in the Motor City, they should look to stick with quarterback Kirk Cousins under center. Against Miami he went 8-for-9 for 135 yards and one touchdown under center and six of the nine passes came via play-action.
“It helps when you run the football,” Zimmer said. “[The Dolphins] were crowding the line of scrimmage, so that helped a little bit.”
The Vikings will look to force the Lions to crowd the line on Sunday. Overall Cousins has a 108.7 quarterback rating when using play-action and the second highest completion percentage in the NFL.