The last time the Minnesota Vikings played in a Thursday night game, Dalvin Cook rushed for a career-high 205 yards and two touchdowns. Against the New England Patriots, though, he had one of the worst rushing games of his career.
Cook carried the ball 22 times for 42 yards for an average of 1.9 yards per carry, the third-lowest mark in his career. Star left tackle Christian Darrisaw’s absence did not help Cook’s case. But it appeared like his struggles stemmed from more than that.
Cook was indecisive, especially for a running back with the unique ability to stick his foot in the ground and burst upfield. None of that was on display on Thursday night. Cook’s longest rush of the night was six yards.
Additionally, Cook struggled to gain yards after contact. According to PFF, he posted 1.36 yards after contact per rush attempt, his lowest mark of the season.
All these factors resulted in one of the worst rushing nights of Cook’s career. But despite his struggle to gain yards on the ground, Cook was a difference-maker in this game. He provided the Vikings with excellent blocking when he had to, and he was a reliable option in the passing game for Kirk Cousins.
In the past, Cook has talked about how he prides himself on being a three-down back, and that title entails the ability to pass block. Last week after Cousins took seven sacks, a reporter asked Cook how they could help, “Block,” he responded. “We’re men. We don’t want Kirk to hit the ground. We’re going to look ourself in the mirror and correct that.”
On Thursday, Cook had six pass-blocking opportunities, according to PFF. On those opportunities, he only allowed one pressure and zero sacks. Safe to say he had a crucial role in keeping Cousins relatively upright.
Furthermore, he constantly chipped the NFL sack leader Matt Judon, who recorded zero sacks against the Vikings. None more important than the one he had on Judon that gave Cousins a clean pocket to deliver a 37-yard pass to Jefferson.
Cook’s willingness and effectiveness at blocking don’t show up in the box score. However, Minnesota’s coaches and players likely noticed and appreciated it.
In addition to his blocking capabilities, Cook provided Cousins with a safety valve in the passing game. Cook was targeted five times and recorded four receptions, two of which were on third down. Both of those moved the chains. That ability adds another wrinkle in the Vikings’ offense that other top running backs like Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry are incapable of.
So despite all the trouble that Cook faced rushing the ball, he still found a way to impact the game for his team positively. He was a willing pass-blocker and made crucial catches for first downs.
The Vikings will have to face another tough defense with the New York Jets coming to town. According to ESPN, the Jets allow the 10th-lowest amount of rushing yards per game.
However, it’s hard not to anticipate a bounce-back game for Cook in the rushing phase as he will likely have Darrisaw, one of the premier run-blocking tackles in the NFL, back in the lineup.
Cook’s ability to affect the game in three dimensions is highly underrated and a huge reason he will continue to be one of the best running backs in the NFL.