Cook, Thielen playing secondary roles during early reveal of Vikings offense

EAGAN, Minn. -- Through two games, the Minnesota Vikings have accomplished arguably the most important part of their offensive transition under new coach Kevin O'Connell. They've established they can and will feature their best player, receiver Justin Jefferson, who has amassed the NFL's 11th-most yards from scrimmage (232).

Their scheme conversion, however, has shifted the remainder of their offense in unexpected ways. Tailback Dalvin Cook is off to one of the least productive starts of his career, while receiver Adam Thielen was targeted just four times in the season's first six quarters until the Vikings shifted to a hurry-up offense in the second half of Monday night's 24-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

It is far too early to draw conclusions about the futures of either player in O'Connell's offense, but the secondary nature of their roles were notable as the Vikings struggled to score against the Eagles. Both O'Connell and offensive coordinator Wes Phillips pointed to an unusually low number of plays (21) in the first half of the Eagles as a mitigating factor, and Phillips added: "We weren't able to establish our rhythm and a good balance of run and pass. It kind of limited everyone's opportunities, whether you say Thielen or touches for Dalvin or [backup running back Alexander] Mattison."

With those caveats in mind, let's take a closer look at each player's involvement to this point as the team prepares for Sunday's divisional game against the Detroit Lions.

Dalvin Cook: 33 touches, 144 total yards, 0 touchdowns

In his previous five seasons, Cook has averaged 213.6 yards from scrimmage -- including rushing and receiving -- in Weeks 1-2. Former coach Mike Zimmer was eager to establish a run-first offense at the start of any season, and Cook was his tailback of choice. Cook exceeded his 2022 scrimmage total in the first two games of all but one of his previous seasons, when he gained 119 yards in 2020 but also scored three touchdowns.

Most notably this season, Cook has only two runs of more than 10 yards for a rate of 7.7%. That's roughly half his career rate of 13%. O'Connell has given him a healthy portion of playing time, using him on 72.5% of the Vikings' snaps, but his 26 rushes are tied for his lowest in the first two weeks of a season. His 17 rushing yards against the Eagles were the third fewest in a game of his career.

"I think he's been really close to breaking a couple runs," O'Connell said. "Obviously, some personnel things have kind of dictated to us at times some of the run selection, and we'll continue to work through that to make sure we get him touches [and] how we're packaging plays to not get talked out of running the football. That will be a key for us moving forward, not just this week but a lot of the time the rest of the season. He's a very important player in our offense, and I have all the confidence in the world in him."

Those challenges were especially notable in the first half of Monday night's game, when the Vikings ran only 21 plays and dropped back to pass on 16 of them. Cook said this week that O'Connell's offense is different than what he's accustomed to but not a reason that he can't be more productive.

"[O'Connell's] got his runs," Cook said. "Everybody has their own runs when they're calling plays. Everybody's got their own things. But running the football is running the football. It's just getting back in that rhythm of imposing our will on people. That's what we've got to get back to."

Cook turned 27 in August and has played five punishing seasons in the NFL, which could take a toll. For now, however, the Vikings are convinced that opportunities -- rather than skill -- are at the root of his slow start.

"When you have the lead and you’re running the football well and converting your third downs," quarterback Kirk Cousins said, "it snowballs ... where now suddenly everyone is involved and you're able to stay really balanced and you're getting a lot of touches to your playmakers."

Adam Thielen: 11 targets (6 in fourth quarter Monday night)

Thielen played a secondary role in the Vikings' Week 1 victory over the Packers, catching three passes on four targets for 36 yards as Jefferson romped to a 184-yard day. And although the Vikings dropped back 17 times in the first half Monday night, Thielen didn't see a single pass until Cousins forced one into double coverage with 2 minutes, 28 seconds remaining in the third quarter, resulting in an interception.

He finished the game with four catches on seven targets for 52 yards, but it was fair to ask why it took a desperate situation to revive the focus on a player the Vikings are paying $14.4 million this season. O'Connell said "a couple of plays" early in the game were initially intended to target Thielen, but defensive looks forced Cousins to check into a different play.

"But with Adam," O'Connell said, "you saw him kind of come to life late. I know the game had gotten a little bit away from us. His [trust] with Kirk is there. Kirk trusts him inherently, and we have to find ways to continue to get him the ball within the rhythm of the game."

It's possible that expectations for Thielen will need to be adjusted given the Vikings' commitment to Jefferson, much as the Los Angeles Rams dedicated their offense to receiver Cooper Kupp last season when O'Connell was serving as their offensive coordinator. Kupp finished the season with an NFL-high 191 targets. The next closest pass-catcher was receiver Van Jefferson with 89 targets.

Thielen said this week that he is trying to be "process-driven" rather than focusing on the number of passes thrown his way.

"That's just how this game works," he said. "It comes in ebbs and flows. You're going to have games where you get a ton of targets. You're going to have games where you don't get a ton of targets. There's so many factors that lead into it."