EAGAN, Minn. -- After five weeks of inconsistency, the Minnesota Vikings seem to have finally come up with the blueprint for achieving balance on offense. And it could be coming at just the right time.
Kirk Cousins broke a nine-game streak without a 300-yard passing effort in the Vikings’ 28-10 win over the New York Giants on Sunday. Minnesota rushed for 211 yards, sparked by Dalvin Cook's career-high day from scrimmage (218 total yards).
The Vikings relied on a few overarching concepts: push the ball downfield in the first half by marrying a passing attack predicated off play-actions and rollouts with Cook’s explosive ability. That led to their highest offensive output (351 total yards) in a half in five years.
Once the Vikings built up a lead, they felt comfortable throwing only four times in the second half, opting for a rushing approach to eat up the clock and wear down the Giants’ defense that ranked 24th against the run and 28th against the pass.
"I thought we did a really nice job scheme-wise with the offense," coach Mike Zimmer said. "The play-actions, the misdirection, the run game, the outside runs, the inside runs, trying to hurt the defense’s eyes by some of the movements that we had. I think there was a lot of good stuff there (Sunday)."
The Vikings are now tasked with figuring out if they can carry over that success into Week 6 against the Philadelphia Eagles, who travel to Minnesota after racking up 10 sacks and two defensive touchdowns in a 31-6 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday.
One area to start is by centering the passing game around play-action. Against Philly’s No. 1 rushing defense, finding ways to set up a consistent play-action game without relying on the run might prove challenging but not impossible.
Cousins had almost as many passing yards off play-action (153, 13.9 yards per attempt) against the Giants as he did in the first four weeks of the season combined (197). Seven of his 11 play-action passes came outside of the pocket Sunday (5-of-7, 110 yards).
"I thought he got out of the pocket, he looked downfield for his shots, and when they weren’t there, he checked it down," Zimmer said. "I think overall, the play-actions and the dropbacks were good."
After a wild week with Cousins and receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, the play-action game ignited Thielen’s monster day (seven catches, 130 yards, two TDs). He had two receptions of 25 yards or more and a touchdown off play-action.
A week after Cousins admittedly left his receivers wide open while struggling to keep his eyes down field in the face of pressure, he showed that play designs predicated off him changing his launch points will yield better results.
"The ability to get out of the pocket I think helped us and usually they were explosive plays," Cousins said. "Those crossers to Stefon (Diggs) and Adam. C.J. (Ham) caught one. It wasn’t an explosive play, but we did try to get to the edge the best we could."
Philadelphia pressured Jets quarterbacks Luke Falk and David Fales on 49 percent of dropbacks in Week 5. That’s quite a bit more than the 31 percent pressure rate Cousins faced when he dropped back to pass against a dominant Bears defense in Week 4.
Finding ways to scheme Cousins away from pressure by rolling him to one side of the field to hit open receivers may prove beneficial against the Eagles, who have the 27th-ranked pass defense. Teams like Atlanta, Detroit and even Green Bay in a loss showed the method for beating Philadelphia comes through the air.
Minnesota might be able to capitalize most by pulling from the spread-the-wealth approach it had in New York.
While Thielen's second career game with multiple TDs stole the show, the way the Vikings mixed their personnel played a big role in the success of the passing game. Cousins was 16 of 19 for 260 yards and two touchdowns when targeting Thielen, Cook and Diggs, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
He achieved his most completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns when targeting that trio this season, and the 13.7 yards per attempt when throwing to those three was Cousins’ most since joining the Vikings in 2018.