Running back Dalvin Cook said two weeks of additional rest has him feeling good ahead of his return from injury for Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game at New Orleans.
Cook said he has been “putting the time in” to be healthy enough for Sunday after coach Mike Zimmer chose to rest him against the Packers and Bears. He will play through right chest and left shoulder injuries against the Saints, whom Cook didn’t get the chance to face as a rookie during 2017’s “Minneapolis Miracle” game in the NFC divisional round.
“Now I’m here,” Cook said. “Now it’s time to win some games.”
The Vikings offense, ranked sixth in rushing yards and touchdowns this season, needs Cook’s return two weeks after falling flat against Green Bay in the 23-10 loss. The absence of both Cook and backup Alexander Mattison enabled the Packers to devote more resources to slowing quarterback Kirk Cousins.
“It obviously changed quite a bit,” Zimmer said Monday, “the way they played us when we have him, especially [compared to] the first game of the year. You know, New Orleans is going to want to try and stop the run, and then go from there.”
Waiting in New Orleans is a fourth-ranked run defense that lost two starting defensive linemen in Marcus Davenport and Sheldon Rankins to injuries last month. Asked about the Vikings offensive line’s poor outing against the Packers, Zimmer again said they didn’t run the ball enough. A healthier Cook, and potentially Mattison, has Zimmer feeling a revitalized run game can solve a couple problems against the Saints.
“They’re kind of banged-up a little bit, but they’re a good football team,” Cook said. “It’s more about us at this point, about how we approach games and make teams match our physicality. We’ll be all right.”
Browns to interview Vikings’ Stefanski
The Browns requested permission to interview Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski again for its coaching vacancy, according to multiple reports from Cleveland. The Browns fired its sixth head coach this decade when dismissing Freddie Kitchens on Sunday.
Stefanski, leading the Vikings’ eighth-ranked scoring offense in his first full season as coordinator, was a finalist after twice interviewing for the Browns job last year. Receiver Adam Thielen, who has spent all seven Vikings seasons with Stefanski on staff, said Stefanski should get his chance at some point.
“He’s got such a great demeanor about him,” Thielen said. “He doesn’t get too high and he doesn’t get too low, and I think that’s a great demeanor to have as a head coach. I think he controls a room extremely well. I think he brings a positive energy at all times.”
‘Everybody can’t come’
Irv Smith Sr., the former Saints tight end, this week told his son, the Vikings tight end, that father had to wait until his sixth NFL season to make the playoffs. Irv Smith Jr., who caught 36 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns this season, made it as a rookie.
This “amazing” experience, Smith Jr. acknowledged Monday, is magnified as his first NFL playoff game is a four-mile drive from where he attended high school in New Orleans. He has had to get picky about handing out tickets.
“I told my mom, ‘Everybody can’t come,’” Smith said. “Close family, close friends. I’m sure we’ll make something work, but I’m going to have a lot of people there.”
In the six games since Dak Prescott threw for nearly 400 yards and three touchdowns against the Vikings, the secondary has surrendered five scores and no 300-yard passers. A cornerback rotation, featuring Mike Hughes off the bench, has led to improvement ahead of a matchup with future Hall of Famer Drew Brees and record-setting receiver Michael Thomas.
“We’ve been playing better,” Zimmer said. “We’re doing things better technically. We seem to be in the right place a lot more often than we were before, so we seem to be playing with more discipline. We’re going to keep staying on it, keep grinding this week.”