Unstoppable: Cook among Week 15's top performers

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Cut the laces off the football -- this week belongs to the running backs.

It only makes sense if you look at the calendar. As every football cliche will tell you, December was made for running the football with authority. No matter that of the three selections below, two played inside climate-controlled domes.

We'll start with a runner we've been waiting to see unleashed in Minnesota ever since his injury ended his rookie season prematurely. Perhaps this is just the beginning of something special in the great north.

Unstoppable Performer


Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings


We could spend a paragraph and a half rehashing Cook's draft slide, Minnesota's choice of him that included a preliminary phone call from Mike Zimmer, his season-ending injury and the struggles from there. We'll instead let that sentence serve as the preface, because it's a new day in Minneapolis, where there definitely are not too many Cooks.

With the departure of John DeFilippo also came the return of a much-desired focus on the ground game. Weeks after Zimmer openly requested more carries for Cook, he received it with his new coordinator, Kevin Stefanski. Consider this difference in play-call distribution, via NFL Research:

Vikings offense Weeks 1-14: 33.0 rush percent; 85.4 rushing YPG (ranked 30th in NFL); 4.1 yards per carry, 6 rushing TDs.

Vikings offense Week 15: 63.5 rush percent; 220 rushing yards; 5.5 yards per carry, 3 rushing TDs.

Of those 220 yards, Cook gained 136 and scored two touchdowns. His best play looked like something out of Madden NFL 19:

"No them, no me. That's the message," Cook said of his offensive linemen, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "The way they delivered today -- unbelievable. They opened holes that was too big. Y'all probably could've hit them holes. They were that big today."

Sunday was a perfect combination of two factors Minnesota has seen little of this season: Effective blocking, and substantial carries for a healthy Cook. It also came against the 29th-ranked defense, meaning it might be an aberration.

But fluke or not, it happened -- and it was unstoppable.

Also considered ...


Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans


We didn't think it was possible, but Derrick Henry almost matched his legendary game on Thursday Night Football.

He got some help from a coaching staff that has suddenly committed itself to Henry.

Henry rushed a whopping 33 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns in a dominant, shutout win over the Giants, ripping off chunks of yards on multiple carries and almost always serving as a tough takedown. This game, unlike the other, qualified as an inclement weather contest, making the turn to Henry easier to see happening. But it's actually part of a larger trend.

The late-season shift to Henry has been a staple of Titans football in the last two seasons, and whether it's due to weather or something else, it has consistently worked, now more than ever.

"He's been a stud these last two games," Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan said of Henry. "I've been very impressed with him as a football player."

Henry has gained nearly 50 percent of his total yards (408 of 882) in his last two games. That level of production isn't sustainable, but the Titans are running with authority. It's now up to Washington and Indianapolis to attempt to stop Henry, or else we'll find him here again next week.


Kalen Ballage, Miami Dolphins


The Dolphins have maintained something of a carousel in the backfield since they decided to ship out Jay Ajayi in a mid-season trade in 2017. Kenyan Drake ascended to the throne, buttressed by veteran and Miami favorite Frank Gore. But when Gore went down with an injury in Week 15, the Dolphins again had to look down the depth chart -- or around the carousel -- for another runner.

That's where Kalen Ballage came into view.

The fourth-round pick out of Arizona State hasn't gotten many chances as a rookie -- eight before Sunday, in fact -- to carry the football. He received plenty, though, with the Dolphins making a clear decision to not give Drake lead-back attention, and the rookie didn't waste them.

Ballage ran 20 times for 134 yards and a touchdown in a 41-17 loss to Minnesota, where the Dolphins were bested by the efforts of Dalvin Cook and Co. No matter for Ballage, who did more than his part -- and also forced a ton of football writers who didn't pay attention to Pac-12 football to learn how to properly pronounce his name.

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