John DeFilippo was Mike Zimmer's offensive coordinator the last time Dalvin Cook started a season this slowly.
It was 2018 and the old-school Zimmer already was beginning to grumble about and bark at the new-schooler DeFilippo for not involving Cook enough in the Vikings offense through a Week 2 tie at Green Bay. At that point, Cook had 26 carries with no touchdowns and one game in which he averaged fewer than 3 yards a carry (2.5). Same as this year.
DeFilippo lasted only 11 more stubbornly called pass-happy games before Zimmer fired him. Cook's next game, he ran for 136 yards and two touchdowns before going on to finish 10th, second and fifth in the league in rushing in 2019 (1,135), 2020 (1,557) and 2021 (1,159).
“Getting guys all in a rhythm at the same time is probably not something that's easy to do. But it's something that we're capable of doing. And I got to do a better job doing that”
Well, Zimmer is no longer around to admonish the Purple's play-caller for not handing Cook the ball. But that's OK.
His successor, Kevin O'Connell, did that Wednesday. To himself.
"I would have liked to have run the ball more," said the Vikings' rookie head coach and offensive play-caller.
Yep. You heard that right. Even the brightest branches of the Sean McVay coaching tree still value running the ball. And this one, O'Connell, is not happy that — just like back in 2018 — Cook has only 26 carries with no touchdowns and one game in which he's averaged fewer than 3 yards a carry, the 2.8 he posted with career-low six carries for 17 yards in the 24-7 loss at Philadelphia on Monday night.
"Obviously some [defensive] personnel things have dictated to us at times some of the run selections, and we'll continue to work through that to make sure we get him touches," O'Connell said. "How are we packaging plays to not get talked out of running the football? I think that will be a key for us moving forward.
"He's a very important player to our offense and I have all the confidence in the world in him, and I've got to do a better job of making sure that I get him in a rhythm much like I try to get the quarterback [Kirk Cousins] or JJ [Justin Jefferson] or Adam [Thielen] or KJ [K.J. Osborn] or any of our guys in a rhythm early."
Cook had only three carries for 3 yards at halftime against the Eagles. Of course, the Vikings also had run only 21 plays while possessing the ball for just 10 minutes. O'Connell said he learned "through the back channels" that the Vikings' first three-and-out series should have been extended by a pass interference call that was missed.
"Sometimes things dictate sticking to your plan and sometimes they don't," O'Connell said. "Getting guys all in a rhythm at the same time is probably not something that's easy to do. But it's something that we're capable of doing. And I got to do a better job doing that."
Cook said a steady dose of run calls early is ideal for any running back. But …
"You kind of have to balance both, and it's hard sometimes," said Cook, whose 107 yards rushing is tied for 19th in the league. "But we can use it as a learning curve and just build from it.
"A lot goes into play-calling. Getting in rhythm, making plays early. We definitely left a lot of plays on the field. We got to help the play-caller. We got to be better on the field making those plays and just settling the game down. That's about being hard on each other and holding each other accountable and going back to work."
Where Cook's workload goes from here, who knows? But one thing certainly will be different from 2018. O'Connell won't have to fire the play-caller to get things the way he wants them.