EAGAN, Minn. -- There is a team in the NFC North that hasn’t been trampled on by Dalvin Cook.
The Minnesota Vikings running back is coming off games of 163 yards rushing Nov. 1 at Green Bay and 206 yards last Sunday against Detroit. And he had games last season of 154 yards against the Packers and 142 against the Lions.
It’s been a far different story against the Chicago Bears.
In three career games games against the Vikings’ other NFC North rival, Cook has carried 34 times for 86 yards for a meager average of 2.5 yards per carry. Now in his fourth season, Cook gets his next shot at the Bears on Monday night at Soldier Field. He vows to be ready.
“We’ve just got to continue to build on from the previous weeks,” Cook said Thursday. “We know the identity of Chicago. They’re a great defensive team. … But we’ve just got to keep this thing about us and how we play football. I think if we play to our standard and keep holding guys accountable, we’ll come out with a victory.”
Cook never has played in a winning effort against the Bears. He sat out both Minnesota wins against them in 2017 because of a knee injury, and Chicago has swept the series the past two years. Cook did not play in last year’s regular-season finale when the playoff-bound Vikings rested their starters.
The Bears (5-4) will see a running back at the top of his game. Cook has rolled up 478 yards from scrimmage the past two games and has been named NFC Player of the Week two straight times.
“I’m ready for it,” said Chicago nose tackle Bilal Nichols. “Whenever you get to play great running backs, you always look forward to it as a defensive lineman. When you see them getting off against other teams and getting off against other players, we want to show that, you know, that’s not going to happen against you. We have a great unit up front.”
In a 24-17 loss last Sunday at Tennessee, the rugged Bears defense held star running back Derrick Henry to 68 yards on 21 carries. That helped Cook, with his big game against Detroit, take over the NFL rushing lead from Henry, 858 yards to 843 entering the Titans’ game against Indianapolis on Thursday night.
“It’s a mixture of some big guys and some linebackers (on Chicago’s run defense), but we’ve got to go in there and match their physicality, not shy away from anything,” Cook said. “This Monday night game is going to be about who’s going to be more physical. I think we’ve got to bring our lunch pail.”
In 2018 against Chicago, Cook had games of nine carries for 12 yards at Soldier Field, and 11 attempts for 39 yards at U.S. Bank Stadium. He gained 35 yards on 14 carries last year at Chicago.
Despite the strong showing against Henry, Chicago’s run defense is not as stout as in recent years. The Bears rank 14th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 116.9 yards a game, after being No. 9 in 2019 and No. 1 in 2018.
The Vikings (3-5) also have a better overall offense than in recent years. If receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are able to stretch the defense, it could help the run game.
“Our chances of being successful and having a strong day against them from an offensive perspective, certainly a large part of that will be how we run the football,” said Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins. “If we can run it effectively and consistently throughout the game, certainly it gives us a much better chance to have a strong day on offense.”
It might not be easy. Then again, Cook is the hottest running back in the NFL.
“It’s a huge test,” said hall of fame running back Jerome Bettis. “But I’ll tell you, if (Cook) puts a beating on Chicago and runs up and down the field, I guarantee you he’s going to be in the conversation for MVP.”