The Minnesota Vikings had no alternative to a win on Sunday Night Football at AT&T Stadium, and what they did was make a statement. With their 28-24 win over the Cowboys, the 7-3 Vikings are not only closer to solidifying their wild card spot, but they might be an even bigger threat to the NFC North leaders Green Bay Packers.
The Vikings offense, which has performed extremely well in the team’s last 6 games, 5 of which Minnesota was on the winning side of, continued their winning ways with running back Dalvin Cook once again taking center stage. Cook rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown, while being a dangerous threat through the air with 87 yards from 6 receptions.
After Sunday Night all the headlines have focused on Kirk Cousins contributing for a win in a primetime game with huge repercussions for the whole Vikings season. Cousins, after years of making something out of nothing with no protection in both DC and Minneapolis, finally has the weapons to be consistent, even in Adam Thielen’s absence. This win belonged to the offensive line, a vital part of both Cook’s success and the Vikes’ turnover-free passing game.
Kirk Cousins was sacked just once by an upgraded Cowboys defensive line that couldn’t find its way past the Minnesota front five. The offensive line has now allowed only two sacks in the last two games and has surrendered more than one sack only three times – 3 sacks twice and the season-high 6 at Soldier Field.
Don’t get confused by Thielen being out week in and week out – the Vikings currently have so many efficient receivers that they could afford to use TE Kyle Rudolph as a red zone threat, catching two TDs from just 5 targets on the night. Stefon Diggs caught 3 passes for 49 yards while Cook was Cousins’ top receiver. However, Mike Zimmer once again gave the running game the edge in the play selection.
Those stats are no fluke – the Vikings are playing some very high-quality football on the offensive side of the ball and are finally putting Kirk Cousins in a position to succeed. As a result, the Vikings are now the 9th-highest scoring offensive unit in the NFL with 26.2 points a game.
After the Lions’ loss to Chicago, the division, now just past the halfway point of the campaign, seems like a two-horse race between Minnesota and Green Bay. Ironically, both teams have identically difficult schedules. According to Tankathon, the Vikings have the 13th-most difficult strength of remaining opponents at .527, but both teams’ marquee matchups are against each other and a top NFC West team, Seattle and San Francisco, respectively.
It won’t be any surprising if that battle comes down to Week 16 at US Bank Stadium. That could turn out to be the case, and the situations the two teams are currently in are indeed similar to the expectations before the Packers’ Week 2 21-16 win at Lambeau. Dalvin Cook is the driving force in Minnesota while the Packers defense is once again heating up. Those two are elements of the two sides’ playing styles, without which either one would be outside an NFC Wild Card berth.
The catch is that the team that doesn’t get the North division crown might still have some good competition for the two wild cards. The Cowboys showed that they could be among that group, despite a tough loss on home soil.
Dak Prescott had another terrific night with 397 yards on the air, 3 TDs and 101.4 passer rating. Amari Cooper and Randal Cobb both caught for 100+ yards in receptions. It’s pretty clear that the Cowboys, in order to have any chance of keeping their “contender” status, need Ezekiel Elliot to step up after having his three-game streak of 100+ rushing yards performances snapped.
The former fourth-round QB pick out of Mississippi State had easily his best game of the season, helping Dallas come back from a 14-point deficit early on. Before the Cowboys face the Eagles in Week 16, they have to go on the road to Detroit, New England and Chicago, and host the Rams and the Bills in their efforts to stay competitive in the playoff hunt.
And, while they showed the on-field sings on a winning team, the schedule provides four teams with lethal defensive units that Dallas could very well struggle against. The upcoming matchup versus a short-handed Lions team (which could lack Matt Stafford for a second week in a row) provides a game that the Cowboys could use to gain confidence and momentum.