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Will Vikings reduce Dalvin Cook’s workload now that playoff hopes are almost gone?

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) runs the ball against the New Orleans Saints during the second quarter of a NFC Wild Card playoff football game. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook -USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings’ chances of making the playoffs sit at 2 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight, after consecutive losses to Tampa Bay and Chicago. The only way Minnesota can sneak into the postseason would be to beat New Orleans and Detroit in its final two games, while having Arizona drop its last two and Chicago lose at least one.

With the Vikings getting set to face the Saints on Friday in New Orleans, one has to wonder if these long odds will cause coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak to dial back the workload that has been put on running back Dalvin Cook this season. Cook has averaged 29.4 touches in the eight games since the Vikings’ bye week and has more than 30 touches four times. He had 29 in the Vikings’ loss to the Bears last Sunday, including 24 rushes for 132 yards and a touchdown.

Cook leads the NFL with 1,833 all-purpose yards, and his 339 touches are only one behind Tennessee’s Derrick Henry. Henry has played in 14 games and Cook in 13.

This would seem like a good time to get 2019 third-round pick Alexander Mattison more involved in the run game. The problem is Mattison suffered a concussion in limited work on Sunday and is listed as out for Friday’s game. This will be the third game in the past four weeks that Mattison has missed. He underwent an appendectomy the day before the Vikings played host to Jacksonville in Week 13 and returned against the Bears.

So unless the Vikings plan to mix in running backs Ameer Abdullah and/or Mike Boone, this looks like another game where Cook could see 30 touches, if not more. It will be more surprising if the Vikings do take carries away from Cook, considering how much they rely on him to power the run game. Abdullah has seven rushing attempts this season and Boone has five, the same number as fullback C.J. Ham. Ham (quadriceps) is listed as questionable.

The Vikings continue to have issues with depth at linebacker. Eric Kendricks (calf) will miss his fourth game and be joined on the sideline by Troy Dye (concussion/hamstring). Dye had been starting in the base defense. Linebacker Todd Davis (ribs), whose playing time increased substantially with Kendricks out, is listed as doubtful. Hardy Nickerson saw 16 snaps against the Bears and figures to play a significant role on Friday.

Also listed as out are defensive end Jalyn Holmes (groin) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (foot). Nose tackle Armon Watts (ankle) is listed as questionable.

The Vikings elevated defensive end Eddie Yarbrough and fullback Jake Bargas from the practice squad. Yarbrough has played in two games for the Vikings this season.