They are masters of the serpentine arts and the most compelling reasons to care about football in Minnesota this fall.
Dalvin Cook and Mo Ibrahim might be the best running backs in their respective leagues. During a weekend in which the greatest running back in Minnesota history, Adrian Peterson, visited in a Lions uniform, Cook and Ibrahim propelled their teams to victories with performances evocative of Peterson’s prime.
Cook on Sunday rushed 22 times for a career-high 206 yards and two touchdowns and caught two passes for 46 yards in the Vikings’ 34-20 victory. Saturday, Ibrahim, a Gophers junior, rushed 30 times for 224 yards and four touchdowns in a victory over Illinois.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck used the word “Superman’’ when describing Ibrahim. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer praised Cook’s acceleration, toughness and blocking after Cook became the first Viking to rush for 200 yards since Peterson five years ago.
“He’s going to do everything,” Zimmer said. “That’s why he’s a captain. He’s a terrific leader, he’s energetic, and guys in the locker room really love him.”
Despite missing one full game and part of another because of injuries, Cook has nosed past Derrick Henry for the NFL rushing lead halfway through the season.
Cook has rushed for 858 yards and 12 touchdowns on 6.0 yards a carry. Henry has rushed for 843 and eight scores on 4.6 yards per carry. Henry is exceptional, but so far this season Cook has easily been the league’s most explosive back.
According to Pro Football Reference, only seven times since 2000 have NFL running backs produced 13 touchdowns in their teams’ first eight games — Cook this year, Marshall Faulk in 2000, Priest Holmes in 2002 and 2004, Shaun Alexander in 2005, LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006, Todd Gurley in 2018 and Christian McCaffrey last year.
In three games, Ibrahim has rushed 97 times for 571 yards and 10 touchdowns, on 5.9 yards per carry. He leads the Big Ten in rushing by 235 yards.
We’ve rarely seen two Minnesota backs have weekends like this, or concurrent seasons like this.
While Peterson was a remarkably fast and physical runner, Cook is a more complete player. He blocked former Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen on one touchdown pass, made a linebacker fall down after a short catch and burst for a 70-yard touchdown after the Lions scored to make it 27-13 early in the fourth quarter.
“Dalvin is a terrific player because it doesn’t matter to him,” Zimmer said. “Obviously he wants to get 200 yards every week, but he’s going to do all the dirty work.”
What makes him special is the ability to run through 11 angry men while keeping his jersey clean. Over his past four full games, Cook has produced 821 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns. Those are numbers you usually only see from a top college back facing nonconference foes — or a future Hall of Famer like Peterson.
Cook traded friendly banter with Griffen during the game, and made a beeline for Peterson at midfield after the game. “It means a lot to me,” Cook said. “A guy who has done it before me, was in the same shoes I was in just a few years ago …
“When I got drafted, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I thought I was going to be a guy who came in and played behind Adrian. But I had to be ready to play right away.”
Peterson, Cook and Ibrahim share little stylistically. In his prime, Peterson was a rare combination of speed and power. Cook combines exceptional speed with close-quarters quickness and feel. Ibrahim runs like he’s related to former Cowboys star Emmitt Smith, another short, squat back with an uncommon knack for sliding off tacklers and writhing forward.
Writhing forward — that’s what the Vikings and Gophers did this weekend as their star backs ran past their competition.