Since he broke into the NFL in 2017 as a second-round draft pick out of Florida State, Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook has been one of the top running back’s in the league while oftentimes sitting at the top of the NFL in numerous rushing categories.
Cook, who is in his sixth season with the Vikings at the age of 27, has ranked in the top five in rushing yards each of the last two seasons while being a focal point of Minnesota’s offense annually. In 2022, with a new Vikings coaching staff in place leading the team, Cook has initially taken a bit of a step back in year six. Minnesota’s offense has so far been more reliant on the passing game under head coach Kevin O’Connell, meaning Cook has seen a decrease in overall production early in the new year.
With his slow start to the season, is there reason for concern over Cook’s step back in performance through the first few weeks of the regular season?
Is There Reason for Concern Over Slow Start of Dalvin Cook?
Performance Thus Far
Through two weeks of the 2022 season, which has seen Minnesota go 1-1 against the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles, Cook has been less than impressive out of the backfield. The three-time Pro Bowl running back has recorded 26 rush attempts for 107 yards and no touchdowns. He has also hauled in seven catches for 37 yards in the passing game.
In the season-opening win over Green Bay, Cook finished that victory with 20 carries for 90 yards on the ground, along with three catches for 18 yards through the air. In Week 2 on Monday Night Football in Philadelphia, Cook struggled while tallying just six rushes for 17 yards with four catches for 19 yards. Entering Week 3 against the Detroit Lions, Cook has yet to find the endzone either in the running game or as a pass-catcher.
In comparison to the 2021 season, where Cook totaled 1,159 yards on the ground with six touchdowns and 89.2 rushing yards per game over 13 contests, he concluded the first two weeks of the year with 44 rush attempts for 192 yards and one touchdown. Cook also added eight catches for 60 yards receiving in those two contests.
It is still early in the 2022 campaign, but Cook’s drop in production and overall performance has been noticeable. That could be due to a change in offensive scheme or just the two opponents the Vikings have faced thus far this season. Either way, it might be a trend that continues moving forward.
O’Connell’s Scheme Leans More Passing
With O’Connell now in place as head coach of the Vikings in place of former Minnesota leader Mike Zimmer, it might be safe to expect the Vikings to be a team that leans more on the passing game than the rushing attack as seen under Zimmer. That obviously would impact Cook and the rest of the running back’s on the roster in Minnesota. The trend to start the year backs that up.
In 2021 as Offensive Coordinator of the Super Bowl Champions Los Angeles Rams, O’Connell led an impressive offense in Los Angeles that was one of the more potent units in the entire league. During the 2021 regular season, the Rams totaled 607 pass attempts (10th most in NFL) for 4,893 yards (fifth in NFL) and 41 touchdowns (second in NFL). In the run game, Los Angeles finished with just 420 rush attempts (tied for 23rd in NFL) for 1,681 yards (25th in NFL) and 10 touchdowns (second-least in NFL).
Through two games in 2022, Minnesota has run the ball 39 times (tied for 28th in NFL) for 188 yards (21st in NFL) and no touchdowns. Through the air, the purple and gold have totaled 78 pass attempts (seventh-most in NFL) for 498 yards (16th in NFL) and three touchdowns.
Those stats are telling in what kind of offensive scheme O’Connell implements — one that leans much more towards the passing game and the deep ball rather than the ground-and-pound mindset. That’s what he has done in the past and there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t try to carry that over to his new team in Minnesota.
The Vikings offense, much like the Rams offenses under O’Connell, will be a potent group that can put up plenty of points on a weekly basis. But this is perhaps no longer a team that runs the offense through the running game with Cook and company, meaning it could already be time to be concerned over Cook’s slow start to the 2022 season.