Word of Muth: Let Dalvin Cook
The Vikings dropped a close one to the Titans on Sunday and now sit at 0-3. Things are looking bleak in Minnesota, but I was really excited to watch this game back. I saw the Vikings piled up over 200 yards rushing and that got me fired up. I was going to watch a Gary Kubiak offense carve someone up with outside zone, one of my favorite things to see in all of football. Unfortunately, that's not what I got.
The rushing yards were there, obviously, but the Minnesota offensive line was not as dominant as you would think from the stats. They were OK, but certainly not great. On top of that, the Vikings had most of their success on non-zone plays, the biggest of which was probably counter.
This is well blocked by Minnesota -- most long touchdowns are -- but they're definitely helped by some rough fits from Tennessee's second level. Kenny Vaccaro (24) in particular looks lost. He bites hard on the counter footwork from the running back (Dalvin Cook, 33) and then falls over without really getting blocked. I know playing safeties at linebacker is the big thing these days, but man can it get ugly in the running game.
Kyle Rudolph (82) at tight end does a nice job of sealing the defensive end off inside. It looks like the defensive end is slanting that way, which makes Rudolph's job easier, but he does exactly what you want here. The pulling tight end, Irv Smith Jr. (84) also makes a key block when he comes around from the opposite side and leads up into the hole. Just a well blocked play that popped for huge yards.
This was the Vikings' first running play of the second half. It makes sense that Minnesota would want to immediately get back to a scheme that went so well in the first half. It didn't go as big here as it did the first time they ran it, but this was another first down. Irv Smith as the widest play-side tight end makes another nice block and Rudolph works well in combination with Riley Reiff (71) at left tackle. (Reiff needs to be squarer on the block so he can take it over when Rudolph climbs). I actually liked what both tight ends did on the blocking front throughout Sunday's game.
But the highlight block here is from fullback C.J. Ham (30), who pulls across the formation and essentially double-teams the linebacker with right guard Dru Samia (73). Ham arrives and knocks the linebacker right on his ass. Despite being known as a zone team, the Vikings ran counter very well all day.
If Cook had followed the double-team, he would've had a solid gain, but he decided to bounce it out and gained even more yards. This is the first time I've watched a lot of Cook and I was really impressed. I know you aren't ever supposed to give running backs money, but he's a really good player.
This is one of my absolute favorite short-yardage plays. I feel like it always works. The Vikings don't even go through the motions of faking the fullback belly before flipping it to Cook. The Titans edge player actually stays home and reads it, but even when you're in the right spot, you still have to make the play. Cook roasts him without breaking stride and makes another few guys miss down the field. When I mentioned earlier how Minnesota's offensive line can be just OK when they ran for 200-plus yards, Dalvin Cook was the main reason why.
And really, you could make an argument that Minnesota was worse than OK. The rushing yardage looks great, and the sack numbers weren't huge, but this was a pretty mediocre performance on the whole from the Vikings' offensive line. The main reason why is their right guard was about as bad as you'll see from an interior player.
This sack really encapsulates what Dru Samia's big issues are. He plays too high and doesn't look strong enough to keep guys from walking him back. He doesn't bend in pass protection and tries to lean on guys when they're bull-rushing him. Look at how straight his hips are. He's just leaning forward to try to slow the bull rush. He has to sink his hips and stop leaning out over his toes.
The really worrying part is that if Samia wasn't getting walked back so easily, the defensive tackle would have been able to snatch him down face-first because he has so much weight forward. But the defensive tackle never has to go to a counter move because Samia never slows his initial push forward. This interior pressure was constant and in a way that makes me very skeptical that Samia can play at this level. If you can't stop a 3-technique from coming right through your inside shoulder as a guard, you can't play in the NFL. Not getting beat with a straight bull rush inside is the most fundamental aspect of pass protection as a guard and Samia gave up pressure that way throughout the game.
As bad as it is to get constantly walked back into the quarterback, this might be worse because it's such a bad mental error. The Vikings are in half-slide protection with the slide going left. So Samia and the right tackle are man-to-man with the down linemen to their side -- that is, unless a linebacker walks up into the A-gap, like what happens here.
Because the Vikings are under center and not in the gun, Samia has to squeeze down if the linebacker walks up and gets even with the defensive line. That's because it's physically impossible for the running back to get from 7 yards deep to the linebacker before the linebacker gets to Kirk Cousins. So the guard has to squeeze down for the linebacker and let the running back take the defensive tackle (or, if everyone is on it, the right tackle squeezes too and the back takes the edge). This is literally Day 1 install stuff for this protection scheme and about the easiest adjustment to make in the entire NFL. You can't miss it as a guard because this is what happens when you do.