INDIANAPOLIS — Running back Dalvin Cook knelt next to a fellow team captain, tight end Kyle Rudolph, on the Vikings sideline awaiting the start of the second half of Sunday's game against the Colts. They stared across the Lucas Oil Stadium turf for a moment without saying a word.
The game had already taken "a turn" by that point, Cook said, with a 15-3 halftime deficit that is starting to feel familiar. The winning formula of the Vikings offense, which led to last year's seventh-ranked run game and Cook's five-year, $63 million contract extension this month, has vanished along with Cook's heavy workloads.
With the team playing catch-up for much of a 28-11 loss, Cook took 16 touches for 71 yards and a rushing touchdown — an efficient 4.4 yards per tote. But his 13 carries per game so far this season are not what the Vikings had in mind. And even while trailing, Cook has only three catches in two games.
Cook pinned it on the flow of the games forcing coordinator Gary Kubiak's hand.
"It's just been a bit off schedule. When the play caller got to call a game kind of off schedule, it's kind of different," said Cook, who had 53 catches in 14 games last year. "I had two catches and it doesn't really affect me. I just wanted to win the game. I wanted to win. That's why I'm here."
But Cook's touches have been the motor driving the Vikings offense, and sequences like Minnesota's first drive of the third quarter — when Cousins threw an incompletion to receiver Adam Thielen followed by a bobbled pass by receiver Bisi Johnson for an interception — short-circuit head coach Mike Zimmer's desired process.
"This team has kind of been built on controlling the time of possession, playing great in the red zone and on third downs, and we haven't been doing that very well," Zimmer said. "We're going to have to get back to work and try to figure out what's wrong, because the identity of this team [is not] what it has been for the last six years."
Asked what the Vikings offense needs to get better, Cook simply said, "Everything."
"I can get better," Cook said. "We can get better in the passing game, running game, pass protection. We can get better, period."
Getting Cook the ball more could be a good first step. He had six carries on 28 first-half plays in Indianapolis, and five were on the opening drive. Cousins said the Vikings are just trying to figure out how to stay on the field after going 2 of 9 on third downs.
"It always helps when you run the ball well," Cousins said. "We had productive runs in the flow of the game. But you're not going to hit every run, so when you don't hit one, being able to still keep the drive alive, convert third downs, those are all things we as an offense are trying to do."