Minnesota’s third-year running back is off to a fine start this season. In its impressive win over the Falcons last weekend, Minnesota dialed up an extremely run-heavy offensive strategy: 38 running plays produced 172 yards, for a 4.5-yard average; QB Kirk Cousins passed but ten times, completing eight, for 98 yards.
I believe that Kevin Stefanski, who’s been a coach in Minnesota for 13 years, is now the play caller for head coach Mike Zimmer’s team. Zimmer is 63, while Stefanski is only 37.
Dalvin Cook got the call 21 times for 111 yards (5.3 average) against the Falcons. His rookie understudy, Alexander Mattison, spelled him for nine carries, netting 49 yards and a 5.4-yard average. Cook, at 5’10” and 210 pounds, is not as big as I thought – though he’s rugged, he relies on speed more than power to swallow up big chunks of yardage. Mattison, a rookie Round 3 pick, is a bruising 5’11” 220-pound back out of Boise State – though he might only get significant action if the score becomes lopsided.
Cook turned in a 4.49 second dash time at the NFL Combine, putting him in the 70th percentile for running backs. His 22 bench presses landed him in the 72nd percentile, though his other combine stats were substandard. In the two key agility drills, Cook landed in the 10th and 6th percentiles – he’s a straight-line runner. The Vikings chose Cook early in the second round (41st overall) in the 2017 draft.
As worrisome as Cook can be, last week’s game was only the third time he’s reached 100 yards in two-plus years. Until then, Cook had almost as many lost fumbles (3) as he had rushing touchdowns (4). There’s a good reason: the win over the Falcons was only the sixteenth pro game he’s played in. A torn ACL prematurely ended his rookie season, and he also missed five games in 2018.
The Minnesota rushers did most of their damage on lengthy runs. Cook had jaunts of 22, 21, and 19 yards, while Mattison reeled off runs of 23 and 17 yards. Cook ran for two touchdowns, and he also caught two passes for nine yards. Here’s some encouragement: take away those five lengthy runs, and the duo of Cook and Mattison gained only 58 yards in their other 25 runs.
A look at Cook’s highlight reel (here) shows him using his speed to get into wide-open space outside the tackles, but it also reveals a woeful Falcons’ defense. Cook routinely got from six to 15 yards downfield before being touched by a defender.
Before the end of the third quarter, Cook had already reached the 100-yard mark and the score was 28-0. Cousins didn’t throw a pass in the final quarter.
In 2018 the Falcons defense was fifth worst in total yardage allowed, eight worst in rushing yardage allowed, and tied for third worst at rushing yards given up per carry (4.9) – so they’ve picked up where they left off. After just this one wretched defensive effort, I’m ready to count a team that includes Matt Ryan and Julio Jones out of the playoff hunt this season. Offensively, the Falcons weren’t any better, with two passes intercepted, one fumble lost, and, for good measure, they had a punt blocked. Julio’s line was: 11 targets, six catches, 31 yards.
Cook, like Adrian Peterson before him, is no role model. While in college, he was criminally charged regarding shooting out car windows with a BB gun, he was involved in an allegation of brandishing a firearm at a neighbor, and he was accused of punching a woman outside a bar in Tallahassee. A jury found him not guilty of the latter charge, allowing him to be reinstated to the Florida State football team. That college-town jury must be big Seminoles rooters.
The Vikes had another RB who was carried over from 2018, Roc Thomas. However, when his Mendota Heights apartment was raided by police, they found “five ounces of marijuana and other items.” The NFL suspended him for three games, Minnesota waived him, and in August he was waived again (with an injury settlement), by the Jaguars. Seems harsh – depending on what the other items were.
Since Cook thrives on racing to the outside, the Packers will need to counter him with speed of their own – and they have plenty of it. We’ll see if DBs Darnell Savage, Tony Brown, Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, and others, are up to the challenge.
The inside linebackers will also be a key to slowing down Cook. Alongside rock-steady Blake Martinez, the choice will be between Raven Greene and new arrival B.J. Goodson. Oren Burks – very fast for a true linebacker – is still recovering from a hyperextended pectoral muscle – he’ll be missed in this encounter.
If the Packers can keep Cook from making a bunch of 10+ yards runs – and the same can be said about the Vikings and Aaron Jones – Cook should not be a difference maker on Sunday.