The Vikings’ fourth-ranked rushing attack, the foundation of their offense, didn’t crumble when star running back Dalvin Cook went down clutching his left shoulder — opposite his already-injured right shoulder — during Sunday’s 39-10 win against the Chargers.
Mike Boone, the second-year undrafted thumper, was an effective closer after Cook’s third-quarter exit, and the No. 3 running back could maintain a role as Cook and Alexander Mattison (ankle) nurse injuries. Coach Mike Zimmer said it’s “too soon” to know how much Cook will be able to handle Monday night against the Packers, but he said Cook can play through this latest injury.
“Yeah,” Zimmer said Monday. “He feels good today.”
This is the kind of scenario the Vikings’ front office envisioned when it kept five running backs on the active roster, including versatile fullback C.J. Ham, knowing the offense would lean heavily on its backfield and possibly require late-season reinforcements.
It’s been a slow fizzle for the Vikings’ running game. Since Cook first injured his right shoulder Nov. 17 against the Broncos, his electric pace has stalled.
He’s averaged 15 touches (down nine from his healthy average) and fewer than 60 yards from scrimmage in four outings since, leaving in the second half of games at Seattle and Los Angeles.
Only two offenses — the Ravens’ and the 49ers’ — run more than the Vikings’ 31 carries per game, meaning Boone, Ameer Abdullah and Mattison, if available, could stay busy regardless if Cook maintains his starting role against the Packers.
“Well, we were hoping we didn’t have to,” Zimmer said of relying on depth, “but we felt like we had some guys that were talented runners. Ameer and Boone have been playing really good on special teams, so that helped them to stay and once they got the opportunity. I really felt like for a couple weeks, Boone’s been wanting to have a chip on his shoulder the way he’s been running.”
Champing at the bit may be an understatement for Boone, who put an exclamation point on his first extended action in the NFL. He’d played just 15 snaps on offense in the first 11 games. Teammates said Boone recently has looked like he’s trying to prove a point in practice.
Linebacker Eric Wilson, Boone’s locker mate at TCO Performance Center, was among the teammates chanting “Boone!” from the sideline throughout the 56 rushing yards and two scores after Cook’s exit.
“It was awesome to see him take advantage of his opportunities,” said Wilson, undrafted a year before Boone. “He found the creases wherever they were.”
Boone credited observing Cook and Mattison — who have combined for 2,198 yards from scrimmage this season — for his growth, particularly when he doesn’t have the ball.
“Watching those guys,” Boone said, “you learn a lot pass protection-wise. Pass pro and just the little things. Being here and correcting the small details.”
The recovery of the Vikings’ top two running backs is the offense’s chief concern after receiver Adam Thielen returned against the Chargers from a two-month recovery.
Zimmer claimed he doesn’t pay much attention to NFC playoff scenarios, which include the Vikings clinching an NFC wild-card spot before Monday night’s kickoff against the Packers if the Rams lose to the 49ers on Saturday night.
Otherwise, the Vikings win and they’re in.
“I like this team. I like how they’re playing,” Zimmer said. “The quarterback is playing really well. I think we’re doing a good job scheming offensively.
‘‘Defensively we’ve played a little bit better the last couple of weeks. If we can ever get it to the point where I really feel good about it, we could do some damage.”
Boone said he’ll be ready if needed once again.
“My number was called, and I try to be there,” Boone said. “We’ve got two big games. Just come in and execute. Try to control our destiny.”