Boy did the Vikings miss running back Dalvin Cook’s presence in the lineup a season ago. After playing in under 50% of their offensive snaps in 2018 due to injury, Cook has been on the field for 70% of those snaps this season. And Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski has been putting him to use.
Cook leads the NFL with 243 touches and 1,415 yards from scrimmage. He’s tied for 3rd in the league with 10 total touchdowns. He’s also 2nd on the Vikings in both targets and receptions.
In Sunday Night’s win against the Cowboys, Cook ran for 97 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries and caught 7 passes for 86 yards. That’s 183 yards on 33 touches. Cook also made the key play on three of Minnesota’s five scoring drives.
On this 27-yard catch and run that set up the Vikings’ first touchdown, Cousins found Cook in the flat. When a quarterback can make a short and safe throw and it still turns into an explosive play, his job becomes significantly easier. Cook is so difficult to take down in space as the Cowboys found out.
On their next drive, Cook took a screen for 30 yards into Cowboys territory. Note the play-action and misdirection, two core components of the Vikings’ passing game this season. It also helped that Dallas only had 10 men on the field on this play.
Cook gained 23-yards on this toss sweep in the 3rd quarter, setting up a field goal to extend Minnesota’s lead to 20-14. You can see just how fluid and athletic of a runner he is here as he easily evaded Dallas defenders.
And just for good measure, this 14-yard run helped set the Vikings up for their go-ahead touchdown. Look how quickly Cook got going downhill, enabling him to run through an arm tackle before finishing with power.
The impact Cook has had on the Vikings Offense has been profound. A year after Minnesota’s rushing attack ranked 30th in the NFL, it now ranks 3rd. Kirk Cousins has benefitted the most from Cook’s presence. The Vikings have gone from throwing the ball 64% of the time (4th highest) to 48% of the time (3rd lowest). This has taken pressure off of Cousins, who has been asked the throw the ball just 30 times per game this season instead of the 40 attempts per game he was tasked with in 2018.
It isn’t just that Cousins has had to shoulder a smaller load. Kevin Stefanski has done a great job of taking advantage of Cook’s presence with screens, misdirection, and a ton of play-action. These types of plays have helped simplify the reads and the game for Cousins. He has responded by playing with more confidence and throwing with conviction. He has also found himself in more manageable down and distances more frequently.
When it’s all said and done, with Cook as the focal point, the Vikings have become one of the best offenses in the NFL.
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