MINNEAPOLIS – Dalvin Cook turned and found center Pat Elflein coming in to celebrate Cook’s rushing touchdown on Sunday.
The Minnesota Vikings have designed plenty of elaborate end-zone celebrations this year, but the running back handed Elflein the ball for a simple, but important, lineman spike to celebrate Minnesota going up 14-0.
The message was simple.
“No them, no me,” Cook said after a career-high 136 rushing yards for the Vikings in the 41-17 win against the Miami Dolphins. “The way they delivered today, unbelievable. They opened holes that were, too big. Y’all probably could have hit those holes. They were big today. You have to give all the credit to those guys.”
What a difference a week makes.
Minnesota’s season was on the precipice and Vikings coach Mike Zimmer fired first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. With a struggling offensive line playing a big part, Minnesota failed to reach 300 offensive yards in four of the previous five games.
Zimmer turned to longtime Vikings assistant Kevin Stefanski to direct the offense. Stefanski has been with Minnesota since 2006, working under Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier and now Zimmer. He’s worked with offensive coordinators Norv Turner, Pat Shurmur and DeFilippo in recent seasons.
He got his chance to call plays for the first time on Sunday.
“He was dialing it up today,” Cook said of Stefanski. “We know coach Stefanski. He wasn’t going to call any plays scared just because he just got the job. He was going to go out there and have 100 percent trust in us because he knows the type of guys he has around him. We are going to give 100 percent every play for him.”
The Vikings scored touchdowns on their first three possessions. Minnesota had 202 offensive yards in the first quarter, the first team in the NFL this season to have at least 200 yards of offense in the first.
Kirk Cousins threw for two touchdowns. The Vikings scored 21 points in the first quarter, more than they had in the first quarter in the previous four games combined and tied for the total first-half points in the past four games. The 41 points on Sunday was the most for Minnesota since scoring 49 against the New York Giants on Dec. 27, 2015.
“He was always calm and collected,” Zimmer said of Stefanski’s week. “I think Kevin knew what I wanted, so I think that was part of it. There was many times there that he said, ‘I’m going to run the ball here. I’m going to run the ball here.’ I think our offensive line appreciated the support. It’s easy when you’re getting five and six (yards) a pop.”
With Stefanski calling plays, Kirk Cousins was under center more often and Minnesota used play-action passes more extensively. And then there was Cook and the maligned offensive line.
Cook took a handoff on the first offensive play for six yards. On the next play, he caught a screen for 27 yards. Two plays later, it was a 26-yard run through a wide-open hole.
“We knew we had to come to work today and get stuff done,” Elflein said. “You know, we weren’t overanxious about it, but we had a sense of urgency today.”
Sunday’s game plan appeared rooted more in 2017’s philosophy under Shurmur than the pass-happy 2018 of DeFilippo. It was the scheme Zimmer really wanted all along. He had preached the need to run the ball more in recent weeks.
The Vikings ran the ball 40 times for a season-high 220 yards. Cook had the second 100-yard rushing game of his two-year career and the first since his regular-season debut. Cook had two rushing touchdowns, spinning away from a Miami defender in the hole on the way to a 21-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring.
Latavius Murray added 15 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown. Vikings running backs combined for 204 yards rushing, the most as a group since the team had 207 yards rushing in that 2015 win against the Giants.
“This was a big one for us; to come home and re-establish what our identity is as a football team, but more so as an offense,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “We want to be a physical, run-first team that takes advantage of play-action and I thought we did that today.”
Not to be outdone, Minnesota’s defense held Miami to 193 yards of offense and sacked Ryan Tannehill nine times. The Dolphins had 85 yards of offense in the second half, 75 coming on Kalen Ballage’s touchdown run on the first play of the half.
The Vikings gave a strong jolt to their playoff hopes with the win. Miami’s defense entered the game giving up the third-most yards in the NFL, but perhaps Minnesota found a missing element with a change at coordinator.
“We realized early in the week that it was time to stop talking and time to start doing,” Rudolph said. “Kevin did an unbelievable job creating a plan that allowed us to go out there and let our ability take over. He got everyone involved; every playmaker on offense was out there making plays for us.”
Brian can be found on Twitter at @MNBrianHall. See all of the Vikings’ coverage at footballmaven.io/vikings