The morning after each Vikings game, beat writer Ben Goessling dives in for a deeper look at a key aspect of how the Vikings played, and what it means for the team going forward:
As of Monday morning, Dalvin Cook was the NFL’s second-leading rusher. He had eclipsed Adrian Peterson’s team record for the most rushing yards in the first three games of his career. And it was difficult to imagine a Vikings running back playing a more complete game than the one Cook turned in on Sunday afternoon.
Carrying 27 times for 97 yards, Cook did much of his work gaining yards after he’d already been hit. According to Pro Football Focus, he averaged 3.04 yards per attempt after first contact; in other words, he gained 82 of his 97 yards after he’d already been hit once. He slipped two ankle tackles on his 26-yard run in the third quarter, carrying safety T.J. Ward for nine yards at the end of the play and gaining 24 of his yards after contact on the run.
He made a major impact in two other areas of the game, too. After spending part of his pregame warmup catching passes from running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu, Cook caught five passes for 72 yards without any of the pesky drops that dogged him during the first two games of the season. His first catch, on a flare out of the backfield, was a 16-yard gain that set up his first NFL touchdown. His last of the day was a short pass from Keenum off a bootleg on 3rd-and-2, which Cook turned into a 36-yard gain that helped put the Vikings in position to run out the clock. For the day, Cook caused two missed tackles on receptions, in addition to six on runs, according to Pro Football Focus.
And as a blocking back, the rookie was also impressive. He lined up in the I formation on Keenum’s second touchdown pass, picking up a free rusher as the Buccaneers sent five defenders after the quarterback and giving Keenum time to roll out and hit Jarius Wright. For the day, Cook allowed only one pressure in eight pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus, and has given up just three total pressures in 19 snaps of pass protection for the year.
Whatever plans the Vikings had for a shared backfield appear to be in hock for now, as Cook has logged the second-most carries in the league through three games and has 74.3 percent of the team’s rushing attempts for the season (not counting a combined five kneeldowns from Keenum and Sam Bradford). Jerick McKinnon has only eight carries for the season and Latavius Murray has just seven, as the Vikings have let Cook touch the ball on 71 of their 202 offensive plays. That’s a Peterson-like 35.1 percent of the Vikings’ plays (though Cook is getting his touches in two ways, not just one), and it will be interesting to see if the Vikings look to curb some of the running back’s touches throughout the season, in an effort to keep him fresh for a second-half schedule stocked with road games.
For now, though, there’s no reason Cook shouldn’t be called a featured back — especially since he’s making himself an integral piece of just about every piece of the Vikings’ offense. His performance on Sunday showed he’s going to be hard for the Vikings to take off the field.