Coming off of a much-needed bye week, the Denver Broncos don’t get much of a break as they hit the road to take on a tough, balanced Minnesota Vikings squad.
While quarterback Kirk Cousins and wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs steal headlines, it’s been running back Dalvin Cook stealing the show this season, turning in arguably the best running back performance in the league week after week.
Heading into the 2019 season, many believed this would be Cook’s breakout season in a new zone running scheme under the guidance of former Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak. The biggest question with Cook and his 2019 performance was health. So far, so good for the former Florida State standout.
Once the Week 11 matchup kicks off, Cook will sit just nine yards away from the 1,000 benchmark on the season, thanks to an impressive 4.9 yards per carry.
He’s the complete package the position, ranking No. 2 in the NFL at the running back position, according to Pro Football Focus, with an offensive rating of 85.8, sitting just behind Oakland’s Josh Jacobs. Cook has the vision, power, elusiveness, and homerun speed. There’s very little he can't do.
So far this season, the Vikings have done a great job utilizing Cook out of the backfield as a receiver, letting him work in space while giving Cousins a safety net on short passes.
Last week on Sunday Night Football, Cook got the Vikings going early through the air, taking a short dump-off from Cousins for 27 yards and a first down, drawing a facemask penalty on the backend of it.
His route running isn’t intricate, but it’s what Cook can do after the catch that is special, especially for the position.
On Thursday Night football in Week 8 against the Washington Redskins, Cook turned in quite the highlight on a screen pass, winding his way across the field for an explosive 31-yard gain.
There’s few in the league who can move laterally with that much explosive and balance like Cook did.
Outside of his abilities out of the backfield, especially in the screen game, Cook has had an incredible year on the ground, carrying Minnesota’s run game.
Explosive Runner With All the Traits
The contact balance, power, and ability to get up to speed quickly from a standstill is insane here.
Sure, the Lions’ tackling isn’t great here, but a lot of that has to do with Cook’s ability to withstand a blow, bounce off of it and burst around the corner. When you watch the Vikings, you see this from Cook quite a bit.
The sideways explosion here is off the charts. Not only is his footwork terrific behind the line of scrimmage (watch the quick, choppy steps leading into the breakdown of the hole), his vision is great here as well.
He sees things collapsing internally, forcing him to shift his eyes outside, explode past a tackler and rip off a 12-yard gain around left tackle.
Much like I wrote about with Aaron Jones earlier in the season leading into the Packers’ game, the Broncos have to be disciplined in their gap integrity, not allowing Cook to find cutback lanes.
The Chiefs really struggled with that in Week 9.
Exploiter of Discipline Lapses
When you overpursue and leave massive cutback lanes, Cook’s vision is going to allow him to find it and explode through it, much like he does here.
It’s only an 11-yard gain, but these are massive chunk plays for Minnesota’s run game that not only allows them to get rolling downhill against front seven’s, it also allows them to control the ball and the clock and wear down defenses.
How Denver Wins
Stopping Cook altogether simply isn’t going to happen. Denver simply has to hope to contain him.
You can’t load the box against the Vikings because Cousins will cut up the Broncos’ secondary with Diggs and his other weapons (Thielen has been ruled out). Denver needs to be gap-sound, not overpursue and make sure they tackle well.
If any of those three parts breaks down, Cook is going to have a field day, especially on his home turf.