(WCCO)- The Minnesota Vikings hit their Week 12 bye week in great position to make the playoffs. With a record of 8-3, they sit just a half-game back of the Green Bay Packers for the division race, and a game and a half up on the nearest Wild Card contender, the Los Angeles Rams.
A stunning comeback victory over the Denver Broncos was key in getting to the bye in that position, and quarterback Kirk Cousins had a big hand in that throwing for 319 yards and three touchdowns. Cousins has been on a tear since a slow start to the season, tossing 18 touchdowns versus just one interception since the team’s Week 4 loss to the Chicago Bears. That stretch comes after the quarterback threw for just three touchdowns with two interceptions in the team’s first four games.
What has been the key to Cousins and the passing attack getting on track? Inside the NFL analyst and Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis says it actually resides in Cousins’ backfield mate, running back Dalvin Cook.
“Honestly, I think one of the key pieces to that offense is Dalvin Cook. What he brings to that offense changes what they can do on offense. When you talk about the deep threats and how they are getting open, it’s all because of play action,” said Lewis. “This kid….he is a game-changer. He is what makes offenses better. Once he gets the ball in his hands, everything changes and I think Cousins is starting to realize that on screens and things like that. There are a lot of factors that are going into it (Cousins playing well) for sure.”
The stats certainly back up what Lewis is saying with Cook ranking second in the league in rushing yards through 11 weeks with 1,017 yards. Adding in his 45 receptions for 455 yards, Cook has garnered 259 touches on the year as the driving force of the offense. Even in a game like Sunday where the Broncos were clearly geared up to stop the run (26 yards on 11 carries for Cook), he made his impact felt scoring two touchdowns and hauling in five passes for 31 yards.
Cousins has excelled at play action passing this season, and the play action is so effective because of the explosiveness that Cook brings to the table. The offense, currently ranked 8th in scoring at 26.3 points per game, will be tested coming out of the bye with matchups against the Chargers, Packers and Bears three of the league’s Top 15 scoring defenses.
You can catch Ray Lewis along with Brandon Marshall, Steve Smith Sr., and Phil Simms along with host James Brown tonight on Inside the NFL on Showtime at 9p.m. Eastern Time.