The Vikings' typically well-oiled rushing attack sputtered, as Dalvin Cook's injured ankle and a stout Browns defensive line were too much to overcome in Sunday's 14-7 loss.
Cook, who was questionable entering the game due to a sprained right ankle suffered Sept. 19 in Arizona, looked spry to open the game. He bounced his second carry outside left tackle, sprinting past Browns linebacker Malcolm Smith for an 11-yard gain.
But Cook's next five touches went for just 11 yards before he limped to the sideline in the third quarter, when he was replaced by Alexander Mattison. Cook returned at the end of the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late. The Vikings ran for 65 yards as an offense, the fewest since the Week 6 loss to Atlanta last year, a loss Cook missed because of injury.
"He came out of the game one time a little gimpy," coach Mike Zimmer said. "We took him out for a while, then he said he was good, and he went back in."
Cook, who had 34 yards on nine carries, was in the game when the Vikings needed 3 yards on fourth down. There were 90 seconds left with the Vikings in Browns territory, but quarterback Kirk Cousins was swallowed by a Cleveland defensive line that made life difficult on blockers all afternoon.
The Browns didn't need to devote much safety help to stop the run, with defensive linemen Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, Malik McDowell and Malik Jackson consistently breaking through.
"They kind of mixed it up a little bit," receiver Justin Jefferson said. "Sometimes they played two-high [safeties], sometimes they played one. So, that's the good thing about our offense. You never know exactly what we're going to throw out. We can run the ball, we can play-action pass."
The Vikings couldn't run against Cleveland, and the play-action passing game also struggled as a result. Cousins' first interception came off a deep play-action bootleg in which he tried to find receiver Adam Thielen deep, but Browns corner Greedy Williams recovered underneath for the pick.
"The Browns did a good job," Cousins said. "After the first drive, they did a good job to make it a tough day for us to try and move the football."
Zimmer admitted losing blocks was a major factor, as the Vikings offensive linemen and tight ends were unable to open many backside creases for Cook or Mattison. After racking up 171 yards from scrimmage against Seattle, Mattison had 10 carries for 20 yards Sunday.
"Typically, when you're running the wide zone like we are," Zimmer said, "you start them one way and get the backside cut off. I don't think we did a good job of getting the back side cut off."