Dalvin Cook is the lynchpin of Minnesota's offense, but he might need a break.
Vikings offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said this week he believes Cook is "beat up" after being "hit pretty hard the last couple of weeks, taken some poundings," via the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer doesn't quite agree with such a sentiment.
"His health is fine," Zimmer said of Cook on Wednesday. "So we'll just keep going and try to be smart about how we use him."
If Cook is indeed feeling bruised, it's hard to blame him: Cook is averaging nearly 25 touches per game (per Next Gen Stats), has played 64.7 percent of all offensive snaps for Minnesota, and is second in the NFL in total rushing attempts with 219. He ranks second behind Derrick Henry for the league lead in rushing yards, and Cook's 1,130 yards gained makes him and Henry the lone two backs in the NFL to break 1,100 yards through 11 games.
Minnesota knows its clearest path to success is built on the exploits of Cook, and without him, the Vikings are a shell of themselves offensively. It's why he was rewarded with an extension before the 2020 season, and why Minnesota looked putrid in a Week 6 loss to Atlanta, a game in which Cook was not available due to injury.
With the Vikings still in the hunt at 5-6, they'll absolutely need Cook if they want to make a run to the playoffs. They'll also need a better outing than his 18-carry, 61-yard performance in Week 12, a game the Vikings still managed to come back and win over Carolina.
"We struggled to get the run game going (against the Panthers)," Kubiak said. "It's at that point of the season, so we've got to get him freshened up this week and get him back to being himself. But I think he's just kind of beat up over the past couple of weeks."
Zimmer added that the Vikings won't go into a week with the goal of limiting the usage of one of their best players, but will have to balance such a goal with the requirements to achieve victory. He'll be happy to have another key player back in receiver Adam Thielen, who was officially activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday.
Facing a three-game deficit in the NFC North with five to play, but trailing in the wild-card race by a single contest, the Vikings don't have any time to waste. Ice up, son.