EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings general manager Rick Spielman chatted with reporters for about 30 minutes on Tuesday morning, and while he sidestepped some questions — such as whether running back Dalvin Cook might be in line for a contract extension — he made clear his belief that this group can do something special this season.
Spielman, 56, used buzzwords like “grit” and “mental toughness” and “culture” to hammer home the fact that even though the Vikings are 8-3 heading into the bye week, everything they want to accomplish is still in front of them.
The Vikings, he said, have been “finding different ways to win games” but “haven’t played our best football yet.”
“We are still evolving as a football team,” he said.
That evolution will manifest, for better or for worse, in the coming weeks as the Vikings try to chase down the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers. No doubt Sunday’s comeback win over the Denver Broncos helps, and Spielman emphasized how that type of victory can be a launching pad for success down the road.
“You’re seeing with the leadership of (head coach Mike Zimmer) and his coaching staff, the resiliency of this football team,” Spielman said. “That’s what we’ve tried to build down there with the type of players that we’ve brought in.”
Moreover, the emergence of quarterback Kirk Cousins bodes well, as does the fact that Cook appears well on his way to stardom. With those facets added to the dynamic receiving threat of duo of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen on the outside, the Vikings have an offense to rival what has been a typically stingy defense under Zimmer.
The Vikings are ranked No. 8 in points per game (26.3) and No. 9 in total yards per game (378.6) among 32 NFL teams.
“This is what we envisioned and I think what Coach Zim envisioned (as far as) what he wants the offense to look like,” Spielman said.
Zimmer has preached the importance of a run-heavy scheme — the Vikings have eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in 8 of 11 games — but the passing game has worked when the moment calls for it. Cousins carved up a Top 5 pass defense as the Vikings erased a 20-point halftime deficit to beat the Broncos on Sunday.
“We were down and had to actually go to shotgun, and spread the ball around, and make big plays in the passing game, we showed that we have the ability to do that,” Spielman said. “That’s what’s a sign of a good football team.”
The Vikings’ defense still ranks No. 5 in the league in points per game (18.6) but it’s No. 15 in total yards (338.6). Most of that struggle can be pinned on a secondary that sometimes struggles at the corners.
Spielman says he isn’t too worried about that. Not yet, anyway.
“That’s the thing that’s great about Coach Zim,” Spielman said. “I know when he heads to the ranch (over the bye week), he’s not just going there and sitting in a deer stand; he is sitting in a deer stand and he’s trying to figure out how we get better on pass defense. That’s one of the things that was the staple of our defense in the past and we’ve had some struggles this season.”
If the Vikings can fix some things after the bye, they could be poised for a playoff run. They’re off until playing the Seahawks in Seattle on Dec. 2 for Monday Night Football.
“We always want to try to play our best football at the end of the season, and talking with Coach Zim, this bye week comes at a great time,” Spielman said. “It’s been a grind since training camp, and this is going to give our guys an opportunity to heal up. We have a very tough and challenging schedule ahead.”
That will ultimately determine how special this season is.