Despite a few injuries here and there, the Buffalo Bills defense continues to rank highly in most metrics. In the last couple games, however, there have been some worries about the run defense. While Buffalo maintains a healthy 4.3 yard allowed per rush (11th in the league), it looked like a weakness against the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets.
Perhaps more concerning is that even great defenses can struggle against an offense with balance. Featuring star wideout Justin Jefferson in the passing game, the Minnesota Vikings have some firepower through the air that might create issues in getting the Bills’ defense in advantageous positions.
Let’s take a look at the Vikings’ run game, which features a star of its own in Dalvin Cook, to see if they can exploit Buffalo’s defense.
- The Vikings average 4.34 yards per rush, which is tied for 20th in the league with the Houston Texans.
- Minnesota has the fourth average gain running off the left tackle at 6.28 yards per attempt. However, they’ve only run it that way 18 times. Further, Cook’s season long run of 53 yards was off left tackle, meaning the other 17 tries averaged 3.53 yards.
- They’ve tried more plays off the right end, with the seventh-most in the league. They likely do this because they do seem pretty good at it, averaging 6.5 yards per rush in that direction. That’s tenth-best in the league.
- The Vikings don’t spread the carries around that much. So far this season, Cook has been the lead back with 131 attempts. Alexander Mattison has helped out a little with 37 carries, and Kirk Cousins has a mere 15. All other players have combined for five attempts.
- Mattison is averaging 3.7 yards per carry, and on paper isn’t much of a threat.
- Cook is averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Does that seem high? It’s actually pretty average, because...
- The current NFL rushing rate is 4.54 yards per carry. That’s the highest dating back to at least 1997. I got bored of looking any further, and it’s likely the highest rate since 1981, which is as far back as I could potentially look through in the database I was using.
Where am I going with all this? The Vikings are balanced as an offense, but it’s more that they’re not terrible at any one thing. When it comes to rushing, they’re mostly average, thanks to an average-performing back in Cook.
Let’s take a look at a few Cook highlights, as that’s who their run game flows through.
Vikings run offense: Dalvin Cook’s agility on display
For Bills fans, the last time we saw lateral cuts like this was when LeSean McCoy was on the team. It’s not necessarily the physical component that’s most impressive to me, it’s the rapid reactions. Cook has already decided to cut to his right when he sees another defender, and adds another little hop seemingly out of nowhere. It takes him far enough to the edge to make some good things happen. There’s also a decisive burst forward that helps gain some extra yards.
Vikings run offense: Dalvin Cook in space
This quick pitch is well-designed, getting the ball to Cook while moving where he can use his speed to their advantage. You have part of the defense biting to the inside thanks to the play design, but candidly speaking, Cook is getting by either way.
Vikings run offense: Dalvin Cook 1-on-1
A lot of credit should be given to play design and team victories. This play leaves one defender to beat for Cook, and the lateral moves again make an easy victory for him.
Vikings run offense: Dalvin Cook inside push
I didn’t come away with the impression that Cook is going to be moving piles on his own, but there’s a qualifier to that statement. Cook has excellent balance, and can use that to stay afloat. For this play, Cook doesn’t go a lot further than the initial contact. The initial tackle twists Cook and help quickly arrives. It still takes several seconds to actually make the tackle, though.
Vikings run offense: Dalvin Cook contact balance
While I don’t see Cook as a pile mover, having excellent balance can help steer a pile. The result can be similar, but it’s not a brute force methodology. On this play, Cook does get a chunk of yards after contact, and it’s in large part thanks to being able to influence the pile by remaining on his feet.
The Vikings lean on Cook in the run game, and when he’s on the field they get pretty good results. The offense appears to use a lot of elements to keep Cook clean and let his agility and speed take over.
Look for the Vikings to use blocking assignments to get ahead of the Bills, then let Cook work his magic. I say “ahead of the Bills” in a literal sense, as Buffalo’s nickel defense loves to play fast. If the Bills can maintain gap discipline and match speed with speed, it’s possible Cook can be handled.