Both the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings are coming off their respective bye weeks. They both have high, post-season aspirations and plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball to do it.
The Cowboys have given teams all they have offensively. On the ground and through the air. Their offense is 5th in passing, 2nd in rushing, and 1st in both scoring and total offense.
Defensively, it’s been two words: pressure and turnovers. They have the front runners for Defensive Player of the Year (Trevon Diggs) and Defensive Rookie of the Year (Micah Parsons).
On the other side, Kirk Cousins is having a career year up to this point. Having players like Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Davlin Cook helps. What helps even more has been his accuracy (69.5%) and lack of turnovers.
What the Achilles heel is for the Vikings this season is their inconsistency to close out games.
It might be a mute point depending on whether or not Prescott is able to play Sunday night, who’s officially listed as questionable.
The #Cowboys list QB Dak Prescott as questionable with a calf injury after being limited in practice.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 29, 2021
The Dallas Cowboys did beat the Vikings last season without Dak at quarterback. In fact, the last 5 matchups between these teams have been decided by 4 or less points. You never really know in this game.
What we do know is the Vikings are better than a typical 3-3 team, and will need to be taken advantage of as much as possible.
A Heavy Dose of Zeke and Tony
Minnesota has a defense that doesn’t give up a lot of points. What they do give up plenty of is rushing yards. Currently, their defense is 26th against the run, having given over 100 yards in every game this season.
The Cowboys are 1 of only 3 teams in the NFL with 2 Top 20 rushing yards leaders. The other 2 were Arizona and Cleveland, who both coincidentally beat the Vikings this season.
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard both average over 10 yards per carry, being 2 of the only 10 players to do it this season. At the rate they carry the ball, and the Vikings have had at stopping the run, Dallas should be able to control the flow of the game and the line of scrimmage.
Expect the Blitz
Minnesota has only blitzed 23.5% of the time against opposing offenses. Among teams in the middle of the league. What’s interesting is that they hurry opposing quarterbacks at a higher rate (19.7%) than any other team.
While they might not blitz as often as other teams in the league, their success rate combined with circumstances will be too much to avoid. As stated before, Dak Prescott is listed as ‘Questionable’ for the game, and if he can’t go, Cooper Rush would take over.
Assuming Dak does play, the blitz is not only something that he’s been prepared for but has thrived against.
Minnesota knows how good this Dallas Cowboys passing attack is, and will try to stifle it.
Make Kirk Cousins Un-‘Guardable’
The strength of Minnesota’s offensive line is in their tackles and center.
Brian O’Neill and Garrett Bradbury at right tackle and center, respectively, have been foundation pieces for the last few seasons together.
The Questions are in rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw and guards Ezra Cleveland and Olisaemeka Udoh.
Darrisaw is coming off his first start, and played well. However, now he’s going up against Randy Gregory who’s having a career year, bully rushing left tackles.
Udoh and Cleveland have both gone from project players to viable starters in this league. They both excel in run blocking but have shown to be heavy footed in pass protection from time to time.
Vikings cross midfield and it looks like they tried to dial up a change-up route to Thielen. But Myles Garrett doesn't take the bait and Kirk Cousins can't set up for the throw. pic.twitter.com/c40z9xNcE9— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) October 7, 2021
Not only will Randy Gregory be a problem, but as will blitz packages from all over. Micah Parsons could be blitzing up the middle or potentially shadowing the edges, to fool blocking assignments. Osa Odighizuwa will be handful no matter which guard plays him.
There’s going to be plenty of 5 to 6 man rushes this game, especially on obvious passing situations and the Dallas Cowboys need to take advantage.
2nd Half Adjustments
The Dallas Cowboys have been a 2nd-half team all season long. They’re always playing close, or behind in the 1st half but manage great 2nd half adjustments to score more points, sometimes blow out opponents. That needs to change on Sunday.
Minnesota is 3-3 and how they play in the 1st half has dictated it. In all 3 games they’ve lead at halftime, they won. In all 3 games they’ve been down at halftime, they lost. Easy concept.
Dallas has been great with 2nd half adjustments but the Vikings are the type of team to knock them off their comfort zone. The Cowboys need to not only continue their playing after halftime as they’ve been doing, but must be just as aggressive in the 1st 30 minutes as well.