StaTuesday: Vikings establish the run, turn back the clock in Week 1

September 10, 2019

While his colleagues marveled at Patrick Mahomes' no-look passes and fussed about the impending arrival of the air raid, Mike Zimmer held steady.

Despite presiding over a high-priced passing offense anchored by Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, Zimmer wanted to run the ball more. A lot more.

That didn't happen in 2018.

The Vikings averaged an abysmal 93.3 rushing yards per game last season -- that's Tampa Bay, Arizona and Le'Veon Bell-less Pittsburgh territory -- and cracked 100 rushing yards as a team just five times.

Dalvin Cook, the Vikings' ultra-promising second-year running back, missed five games with hamstring injuries, finishing with just 615 rushing yards and two touchdowns in his return from ACL surgery. Meanwhile, backup Latavius Murray averaged 4.1 yards per carry behind a patchwork offensive line.

John DeFilippo's failure to establish the run reportedly cost the Vikings' offensive coordinator his job.

His replacement, a brain trust led by new OC Kevin Stefanski and assistant coach Gary Kubiak, kicked off 2019 with a statement.

The Vikings rumbled for 172 yards and three touchdowns on a combined 38 carries against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Only the Baltimore Ravens, who entered halftime up by 31, ran more often in Week 1.

Cook did most of the damage, rushing for 111 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Rookie Alexander Mattison chipped in as well, picking up 49 yards on nine carries.

Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins was tapped to pass just 10 times, going 8-for-10 for 98 yards and a touchdown.

It was the first time the Vikings have attempted 10 or fewer passes in a single game since the Bud Grant era, per Pro Football Reference. Specifically, a snowy mess of a game at Lambeau Field back on Nov. 27, 1977.

There have been just three such games in the last decade: Mitch Trubisky managed just four completions on seven attempts during the Chicago Bears' Week 7 win over the Carolina Panthers in 2017. He's got nothing on Tim Tebow, who went 2-for-8 during the Denver Broncos' Week 10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in 2011.

But while those were low-scoring games featuring suspect quarterbacking, the Vikings' reliance on the run was partly a function of game script and an overmatched opponent.

The Vikings entered the second half leading 21-0 and had little incentive to air it out, while the Falcons allowed an average of 124.9 rushing yards per game last season, eighth-worst in the NFL.

Still, it's a big day for Zimmer.

The run has been established.

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