As Dalvin Cook took an inside zone handoff in the second quarter Sunday, he stepped through a hole in the Detroit Lions’ front a few yards away from where his left knee buckled against them last October.
And as Cook sprinted away from the Lions defense, touching 22.08 mph on the speedometer as he finished the longest run of his career, he gave the Vikings reason to think his injury issues might finally be a thing of the past.
Cook recorded the fastest speed by a ballcarrier in the NFL this season on his 70-yard run, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The Vikings — who had planned for Cook to play only 15-20 snaps in his return from a hamstring injury that had caused him to miss all but one game since Week 2 — relaxed their limitations on the second-year back once they saw how comfortably he was running.
Cook played 27 of the Vikings’ 56 offensive plays in a 24-9 win over the Lions, logging eight more plays than Latavius Murray. Coach Mike Zimmer said that Cook had no issues Monday after he gained 109 yards from scrimmage on 14 touches. And with the Vikings’ bye week here, it stands to reason Cook should be at full health for the team’s Sunday night game against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 18.
“Dalvin’s a pretty confident guy, but I do think him being able to go through there and come in today and feeling great, I think that’s all good for going forward,” Zimmer said.
The second-quarter run, which put the Vikings on the Lions 5-yard line and set up Kirk Cousins’ touchdown pass to Adam Thielen, also accentuated an element of the Vikings offense that should improve with Cook back. Though Murray had five of the Vikings’ eight runs of 20 yards or more when Cook was injured, few players on the Vikings roster can match Cook’s potential for game-breaking plays.
“Actually, there was another run I thought he was going to pop that he just kind of got tripped on,” Zimmer said. “He’s got a chance to hit home runs. I think it was really good for him to get out there and get some game-time action. When you haven’t played in six weeks and you haven’t practiced all that much, I just think he’ll continue to get better, seeing some of the cuts get a little bit better as he gets going.”
Before Sunday, the Vikings had seen only glimpses of the Cook who ran for 354 yards in four games last season before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against the Lions. With Cook back, though, the Vikings were able to use him and Murray as part of a two-back formation, motioning Cook out to the slot while keeping Murray in the backfield.
They’ll also have opportunities to lean on the tandem after their bye week, when three of their first four games will be outdoors in Chicago, New England and Seattle.
“I do think with some of these games, as it starts to get colder, it’s going to be a factor,” Zimmer said. “I think we’re getting better in a lot of areas in the running game. We’ve got to continue searching for ways to pound the ball.”
With one of their most dynamic players again available to them, the Vikings might be able to open up a facet of offensive coordinator John DeFilippo’s playbook they haven’t been able to explore in great detail yet.
They cleared the first hurdle Sunday, turning the player Cousins called “the White Tiger” — in other words, the popular but rarely seen animal at the zoo — into a starring attraction.
“You get kind of nervous in those situations, but it’s how you find out you’re good to go,” Cook said Sunday. “I was good to go then. I will always tell you, when I am out there I am giving 100 percent. When I am out there, I am thinking about making plays. That is all that is on my mind. It has been out of my system. This extra week is going to help with our whole team getting to 100 percent — including me, getting over that hump.”