EAGAN, Minn. – Who will outrun whom on national television?
This weekend’s Sunday Night Football showdown will feature two of the league’s top running backs in Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott.
Entering the game, the pair accounts for more than 1,600 yards on the ground and 2,100 yards from scrimmage.
“He’s a good back,” Cook told Twin Cities media members on Wednesday. “I’m trying to out-rush him, and I know he’s trying to do the same thing. I think … this game’s going to be won in the trenches. My offensive line against their defensive line and [vice versa]. I think if we win in the trenches, this thing could go right for us.”
The Cowboys (5-3) will host the Vikings (6-3) for the prime-time game as each NFC team looks to build on its win column.
Both teams have relied heavily on their backs this season. Elliott has surpassed 100 rushing yards in four of Dallas’ five wins. Cook has rushed for more than 100 yards in four of the Vikings six wins and came just 2 yards short of the benchmark in Minnesota’s defeat of Washington.
Cook leads the NFL in rushing with 894 yards. Elliott’s 741 yards on the ground rank sixth, but it’s worth noting that he has one fewer game under his belt. Cook has nine touchdowns on the season; Elliott has six.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer acknowledged the talent level of each but specified that they’re different players.
“I think they both run hard, they’ve both got great speed, and they’ve both got good vision,” Zimmer said. “But I wouldn’t compare those two.”
Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett spoke with Twin Cities reporters via conference call on Wednesday and was asked about Cook.
“Just a great football player. [The Vikings] do such a great job with their offensive line and their scheme, and he fits into it so well,” Garrett said. “He’s just one of those guys, he’s got such great natural instincts as a runner, great vision and feel to go along with his quickness, his speed, his explosiveness, his power, the whole thing.
“It’s easy to see why they’re having so much success – doing a great job up front, and he’s an elite running back,” he added.
Garrett then commented on Elliott, who he said “makes everyone around him better” for the Cowboys offense.
“We want to be physical on the offensive and defensive lines, we want to be able to run the football, and he’s been a guy who’s been able to do that week-in and week-out over the course of his career for us,” Garrett said. “He’s more than just a runner; he’s an excellent protector, he’s a very good receiver out of the backfield, he’s got a tremendous competitive spirit that everybody around him really responds to, and he’s just a hell of a football player. We’ve got the utmost respect for him, and we’re lucky to have him.”
The Cowboys signed Elliott to a lucrative, long-term extension in early September.
Asked if he pays much attention to the deals that other running backs are signing around the league, Cook said he doesn’t concern himself with business outside of his own.
“Everybody’s situation is unique and different. My situation is totally different than those guys,” Cook said. “I’m chasing the game. I’m not chasing anything else but the game. I want to learn as much as I can. I want to be the best player, the best back, the best teammate that I can be for the Vikings.
“If you’re chasing anything else but the game, you’ll fall short of that,” he added. “I’m not trying to fall short of that.”
When Cook takes the field on Sunday, he has a shot at hitting the 1,000-yard mark just 10 games into the season.
The only other running backs in Vikings history to accomplish the feat in the same number of games are Adrian Peterson, who did so in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013, and Robert Smith in 2000.
Asked what it would mean to reach the benchmark, Cook said it’s “awesome” to be included in a sentence with Peterson.
“That’s a guy that’s highly [regarded] in this organization, and I’m just proud to be in the conversation,” Cook said. “It just shows you the work, the time and everything that I’ve put into this thing. It just shows that if you keep chipping away and working hard, things are there for you to accomplish.”
His teammates are rooting for him, as well.
Wide receiver Stefon Diggs said it would be “huge” to see Cook hit 1,000 yards so quickly.
“[I’ve been talking] for the past couple years of how special he is and how special he’s going to be,” Diggs said. “But this will just be a small milestone for what he can do, and I look forward to it. I’ll be out there blocking for him.”
But Cook is less focused on stats and more on getting a win on the prime-time stage.
“I’m actually fired up to go play down in that stadium. It should be a good event,” Cook said. “It’s Sunday Night Football, man. If you can’t get ready to go for that, I think you’re in the wrong sport.”