A day after the Vikings’ 41-17 victory over Miami doubled as a statement about the kind of offense Mike Zimmer wants the team to have, the coach spent Monday dialing down the degree to which the changes under interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski are perceived as a vast departure from what the Vikings did under John DeFilippo.
The effectiveness of Stefanski’s game plan, Zimmer said, lay in the Vikings’ ability to run the same play multiple times, with formation shifts or motion to give it a different appearance.
“We pared some things down, but we ran one play 10 times with 10 different variations,” he said. “Sometimes, that’s what it is, too; you come at it differently and you give them a different look so they can’t key on one thing, but you’re basically running the same play.”
But as the Vikings reaped rewards for their investments in the run against the Dolphins on Sunday, they reintroduced a pair of oft-overlooked contributors to their offense.
Fullback C.J. Ham was used as a run blocker a season-high 13 times Sunday, as his 18 snaps ranked only behind the 20 he played against the Rams among his busiest days of the season.
“It was something that was in the game plan,” Ham said. “From the first day of this week, the game plan [was], ‘We’re going to run the ball. We’re going to get physical.’ When you have success, you build confidence.”
Backup tight end David Morgan, meanwhile, had played in seven of the Vikings’ first eight games this season, logging between 21 and 36 snaps in each of them before suffering a knee injury Nov. 4 against the Lions. His workload — 23 snaps Sunday — was right in the range of how the Vikings had used him under DeFilippo, but he found himself run-blocking on 19 of those snaps (his third-highest total of the season, according to Pro Football Focus).
The Vikings lined up with two running backs and two tight ends on Dalvin Cook’s first touchdown run of the day, with Morgan and Ham providing key blocks at the line of scrimmage before Cook bounced the run outside and beat Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain on his way to a 13-yard touchdown.
“It was just a good play all around,” Morgan said. “Receivers were downfield blocking, getting to the second level, and obviously Dalvin made an incredible run.”
The Vikings’ 220 rushing yards came against the league’s 29th-ranked run defense, and even Zimmer admitted Monday that things won’t be so easy for them going forward, starting with the final regular-season road game of the year Sunday in Detroit.
“A lot of the runs were similar runs that we’ve had in the past,” Zimmer said. “They had a wide defensive end, so that was a part of it. Their linebackers were fast downhill, sometimes out of their gaps, so that gave us some opportunities on some of those things. We were able to cut them off and knock guys off to the backside. I thought we did a good job of getting to the second level. I’m not trying to discredit how they play defense or anything like that, but they play a little different style up front, that if you can [run the ball], you can get some creases in there.”
The Vikings’ approach incorporated role players such as Ham, Morgan, rookie Tyler Conklin (who caught a 33-yard pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins off play action) and Aldrick Robinson, who caught his fifth touchdown pass of the year on another day when an opposing defense tried to limit Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen’s production.
Even if things might have come easier to the Vikings on Sunday than they will in the future, the game served as a reminder of how resourceful they can be.
“He’s an incredible athlete,” Morgan said of Ham. “People limit him as a fullback, but he can do a lot more than that. When you have a guy that can do a lot of different things, it’s hard to keep him off the field. So when he’s helping you out, there’s no reason not to have him out there.”