There were very few offensive positives for the Vikings following Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Case Keenum led unit struggled to move the ball all afternoon, mustering only 237 yards of total offense. The one bright spot for the offense was rookie Dalvin Cook, who broke off several nice runs despite having just 12 carries on the day. He finished with 64 yards on the ground, but he was often hit before even reaching the line of scrimmage and had to fight for any yards. If the Vikings are going to be without Sam Bradford for an extended period of time, Cook will have to be the driving force that keeps the team afloat.
While pounding Cook on the ground is a fair strategy, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur would be best served to get creative with his use of the young running back. They have tried to get him involved in the passing game out of the backfield, whether it be on screens or swing passes. Cook has the capability to motion out of the backfield and run routes out of the slot, and that could be a lethal addition to the offense. He has the quickness and suddenness to be a nightmare for linebackers that try and cover him. If he can break free on option and underneath routes that would give whoever is at quarterback easy throws in the middle of the field to create manageable third downs.
Cook has clearly become the feature back, more than quadrupling any other back’s carries. The preseason dream of a thunder and lightening combo between him and the newly acquired Latavius Murray has yet to be realized in any major way. Murray has five carries in the first two games combined for a whopping 12 yards and has managed to fumble. If he continues this kind of putrid performances he is headed toward the Albert Haynesworth memorial free agent Hall of Shame. In the meantime, the Vikings have done a nice to getting edge rushes for Cook. One of the great limiting factors with Adrian Peterson was his inability to run out of the shotgun. Cook has no such issue, and as a result has created a dimension to the offense that was previously unknown. They run pseudo-power runs with him out of the gun, pulling linemen out in front and allowing him to stretch the defense before darting through the hole. The issue becomes that these are slow developing plays and can be prone to lose yardage. A solution might be to run more quick pitches in order to get ball in Cook’s hands as fast as possible so he can use his vision to carve up the defense.
The offense was as meager as it has been in a long time on Sunday. Every third down felt like an insurmountable hurdle that made punting an inevitability. It is likely that they will look better this coming Sunday, whether it be because Keenum has a full week to prepare as the starter or because Bradford is back at the controls. Regardless of who is under center, featuring Dalvin Cook in myriad roles all over the field would be in the best interest of everybody.