Mike Boone’s first NFL start was not one to remember. The second-year running back had 11 carries for only 28 rushing yards in Monday night’s loss to the Packers.
On Thursday, Boone sat at his locker following practice at TCO Performance Center and watched cutups of the Bears defense ahead of what should be his second NFL start on Sunday.
Dalvin Cook (shoulder) and Alexander Mattison (ankle) remained limited during Thursday’s practice, lending further importance to Boone’s film study of how the Bears defense will attack run schemes and what he needs to do in pass protection.
“That’s something I definitely learned you have to do more of,” Boone said of studying film. “That’s really how you get better: seeing it and visualizing it and going out and doing it. Just hammering down on that tape and trying to get better at the mental aspect.”
The Vikings offense dropped to seventh in rushing (130.6 yards per game) after Monday night’s loss against the Packers produced just 57 rushing yards, the season’s third-lowest mark. Boone, who had one carry after halftime of the 23-10 loss, suffered from a “couple missed cuts” and a lack of opportunities, according to coach Mike Zimmer.
The Vikings’ 16 rushing attempts against the Packers fell well short of the offense’s average of 30 carries per game this season. Zimmer wants balance restored Sunday.
“It’s a combination of things,” Zimmer said. “I understand like with [offensive coordinator] Kevin [Stefanski] as a play caller, things aren’t working you try to do something else. You know, there’s some merit to when they’re playing some of those soft zones to continue to stick with it and find some other ways to run the football, and we probably didn’t do that.”
Kendricks on sideline
While linebacker Eric Kendricks (quad) might not be the only Vikings player to rest Sunday against the Bears, he was the only player sidelined during Thursday’s practice. Kendricks jogged through warmups before turning to physical rehab off to the side with strength coach Mark Uyeyama.
Linebacker Anthony Barr is not on the injury report after exiting Monday night’s game in the fourth quarter with what he called cramps. Should Kendricks and Barr be sidelined against the Bears, linebackers Eric Wilson and Kentrell Brothers are expected to play big roles.
“It’s crucial the backups know everything that’s going on, because as you can see two linebackers go down like that,” Brothers said. “When we practice [second-team] nickel, it’s usually me and [Wilson] anyway, so we have a bit of camaraderie.”
Only a handful of NFL quarterbacks throw more play-action passes than Kirk Cousins (31.4%), and even fewer are more successful than his 129.2 quarterback rating when doing so, according to Pro Football Focus. But Stefanski’s play calling against the Packers shied away from that foundation as Cousins attempted just five play-action passes for two completions, 14 yards and an interception.
“The play-actions, there’s always going to be ways that we can do what we do best regardless of the defensive scheme,” Stefanski said. “We just have to look at it critically, say what we would do differently the next time so we can put our guys in a position to go succeed.”
Cornerbacks keep rotating
Neither of the Vikings’ starting outside cornerbacks, Xavier Rhodes nor Trae Waynes, has led corners in snaps since the Dec. 2 loss in Seattle, when the defense surrendered 444 yards and four touchdowns. Zimmer’s response — an ongoing cornerback rotation by series — has propped up second-year Mike Hughes, who led the group with 53 snaps against the Packers.
“His confidence has built throughout the course of the season,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said.