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Dalvin Cook Wearing Down Defenses with Yards After Contact

Posted Sep 28, 2017

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Good luck bringing down Dalvin Cook on the first try.

The box score showed that the final play of the first quarter Sunday between the Vikings and Buccaneers was a 2-yard run by the Vikings rookie running back.

But Cook showed numerous traits on the play that make him a well-rounded back, including his ability to gets yards after contact and continually punish defenders with his physicality.

On the 2-yard run, Cook eluded Tampa Bay defensive end Robert Ayers four yards in the backfield and still maneuvered ahead for a positive gain on a play that looked like it was going nowhere.

“He’s slippery. He can get into small creases,” Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. “He wiggles just a little bit enough so a guy doesn’t get a clean shot at him.

“They don’t get many clean shots at this guy, and then when [he gets into] the crowd, he lowers his shoulders,” Zimmer added. “I’ve been extremely happy with the way he’s preformed, and I hope it continues and continues to get better.”

If Cook showed elusiveness on the 2-yard play, he showed power in the third quarter when he recorded his longest rush of the day on a 26-yard gain.

After brushing off an arm tackle two yards past the line of scrimmage, Cook sidestepped a defender before Tampa Bay safety T.J. Ward met the running back at the 20-yard line.

Ward, who is known as a physical defensive player, ended up on Cook’s back as the running back churned and turned his way for an additional 10 yards.

Cook ended up with 97 yards on 27 carries Sunday and recorded his first NFL rushing touchdown.

According to stats compiled by Vikings.com, Cook earned yards after contact on 24 of his 27 rushes. He averaged 3.33 yards after first contact.

Those numbers are comparable with Pro Football Focus, which said Cook averaged 3.04 yards after first contact against Tampa Bay.

“I [take] pride in it. You have to [have] pride in it,” Cook said Thursday. “When you move the chains and the change the scoreboard, you have to [take] pride in things like that. I [take] pride in it a lot, just taking steps forward.” 

Cook, a second-round pick out of Florida State, said there’s no trick or secret why he’s able to shrug off defenders and gain extra yards.

“There’s no key; it’s all about will. It’s going out there and just wanting to make the play,” Cook said. “You get two guys 1-on-1, and one of them wants to make the play more badly than the other.

“That’s what it comes down to … you don’t get the biggest guy to make the play,” Cook added. “It’s just a person who wants to go out there and make the play more than the other person.” 

Cook, who is listed at 5-foot-10, is showing that running backs don’t have to tower over defenders or weigh an excess of 250 pounds to gain extra yards.

“He’s a powerful back. He may not be the tallest guy, but he has strong legs and is strong in general,” said Vikings running back Latavius Murray, who is listed at 6-3. “It’s really hard for guys to bring him down and arm tackle him. 

“He keeps his feet moving, too,” Murray said. “He’s got it all. It’s been impressive.”

According to sportradar.com, a sports data tracking website, Cook ranks second in the NFL with 23 missed tackles caused, behind Kansas City rookie running back Kareem Hunt, who has 27.

Hunt is leading the NFL with 401 rushing yards, and Cook ranks second with 288.

While Cook’s effort and ability bring energy to Minnesota’s offense, it can also wear down an opposing defense.

Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks said he knows the frustrating feeling of a running back getting an extra two or three yards per carry by racking up yards after contact.

“You obviously want to stop him in his tracks, but those extra yards, they hurt,” Kendricks said. “It’s super frustrating because you never want to miss tackles.

“A lot of the time it’s their footwork and decision making. Sometimes the linebacker may think he’s going one way, and he puts his foot in the ground and goes downhill … you never know,” Kendricks added. “If he has the speed to hit the edge real fast, it keeps linebackers on their toes. Anytime you get that indecision by the linebacker, it makes it easier for them.”

Cook currently ranks second in the NFL with 288 rushing yards. He currently ranks first in team history with the most rushing yards by a rookie just three games into their first season.

Thanks, in part, to his ability to pick up yards after first contact.

“He’s a grinder and has a lot of heart,” Kendricks said of Cook. “A lot of that extra yards and yards after contact, you can’t really coach that. It’s just all about heart.”