It does not take much more than a simple mind to know that Dalvin Cook’s absence from the lineup provides some uneasiness. The Vikings starting tailback has been marvelous in 2020. Cook leads the NFL in rushing yards by a healthy margin and is also the temporary king of rushing touchdowns through five weeks of the 2020 season.
Those fancy rankings are going to take a tumble for two reasons. First, Cook injured his groin last week in Seattle and will miss at least one game. The 25-year-old has already been ruled out of the Week 6 game versus the Atlanta Falcons in Minneapolis. Next, Minnesota’s bye week takes place in Week 7. Cook will [hopefully] play in Week 8 at Green Bay with his sights set on reclaiming the NFL’s most prestigious rushing marks. For the next two weeks, though, he will tumble backward a bit on the list(s).
But those are just individual stats – the lesser important ones. The Vikings sole objective is to defeat the 0-5 Falcons this weekend and win their first home game since Week 14 of 2019. To do so, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak turns to second-year running back, Alexander Mattison. The Boise State alumnus was magnificent during Cook’s groin sabbatical in Seattle. He scampered for 112 yards on 20 carries and damn near won the game for the Vikings on a controversial fourth-down play call by Mike Zimmer.
Mattison will be “the guy,” but the man behind Cook and Mattison on the depth chart should not be wholly forgotten for Week 6.
That is Mike Boone.
No Guarantees Mattison is the Undisputed Bellcow
The aforementioned Mattison will get a lot of work when the Vikings host the Falcons on Sunday, rest assured. He’s a formidable downhill runner than can leapfrog opponents like a kangaroo at the Olympics.
Yet, we might see a quasi-unexpected committee arrangement. Even when Dalvin Cook is upright and thriving in a given game, Zimmer and Kubiak will call Mattison’s number for a change of pace. And, that tactic is generally effective. If the team does not deviate from the gameplan, we know the Vikings will run the ball more than they will pass it. It’s just the Mike Zimmer way of conducting business.
That opens a purple door for Mike Boone, Minnesota’s speedy RB3. Boone is no stranger to the Vikings as he’s been a part of the roster since 2018. Just as Minnesota uses Mattison to complement Cook in normal situations, you can reasonably predict that Boone will command some attention from Atlanta’s defense. In fact, he could receive more touches than an ordinary RB2 in a Vikings offense because Mattison hasn’t emphatically proven he’s a workhorse; unlike Dalvin Cook who is just that within the Vikings offense.
Keep Boone in mind against the Falcons. The Vikings love the salt-and-pepper approach to running the football.
Boone and the Need for Speed
Aside from alternating blood as an aspect of strategy, Boone offers a different style that is different than Mattison’s. Minnesota will use Mattison’s downhill, bowling-ball technique against the interior of the Falcons defense as its go-to attack. But then Boone can give a Cookian spark. How so? Boone is a speed savant. Mattison is indeed known for his agility, but he is certainly not a speed merchant. The 40-yard dash time that Mattison registered at his 2019 Pro Day (4.67) is more akin to that of a tight end than a running back. These metrics are not the end-all or gospel for all-things talent, but they do provide a general baseline for a player’s abilities.
Mike Boone’s 40-time in 2018 was a cool 4.45 seconds. That’s more in line with Dalvin Cook or rookie wideout Justin Jefferson.
Let’s put this bluntly: Alexander Mattison does not have Dalvin-like breakaway speed. Mike Boone does.
3 TDs in 3 Weeks to Close out 2019
Lastly, there is evidence. Because Cook and Mattison were beset by injury late last year, we were allotted a glimpse into what Boone can do. He was granted fairly extensive playing time to close out the regular season in 2019. In three games, Boone notched 232 rushing yards and three touchdowns. That’s not a humongous sample size, but it does generate a bit of optimism. In particular, Boone beat up the Bears in a losing effort (where Vikings starters were rested) in Week 17. He rushed the ball 17 times for 148 yards and a score. He’s got it in him.
Yes, that was only three games, and yes, a larger audition would be in order to prove sustainability. But here’s the deal – in the here and now, the Vikings don’t need Boone to be the headliner for more than three games. He’s perfect right where he’s at.
Mattison will get the ball a lot this Sunday, and deservedly so. But don’t be astonished if Boone does his best Mattison impression and makes you think, “Damn, this guy is good, too.”