Three Keys: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings
We’re on a three-game winning streak. Understandably, things are mostly positive in Viking Land, especially since Arizona’s loss on Thursday night brought our beloved Vikings within 1.5 games of a playoff spot. Vikings fans should indeed be happy with these past few weeks. Nevertheless, we at TVG feel compelled to offer a word of caution: the Vikings fan ought to be most concerned when Minnesota appears to have it all together. With that brief dose of pessimism (realism?), we offer our three keys for the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Minnesota Vikings.
Dallas’ Receivers vs. Minnesota’s Safeties
Collectively, Minnesota’s corners have made a big improvement. Dallas’ receivers will put this improvement to the test. The Amari Cooper – CeeDee Lamb – Michael Gallup trio are among the NFL’s best. Kris Boyd and Jeff Gladney are going to have their hands full.
The simplest solution rests in continued exemplary play from Harrison Smith (who is somehow still underrated) and Anthony Harris. As we suggested during the offseason, Mike Zimmer has simplified his defense so that his young corners can succeed. Over these past few weeks, though, Zimmer has begun sprinkling in more complexity to keep the opposition off balance. Against the Cowboys, expect Zimmer to give his young corners plenty of safety help while nevertheless doing his utmost to ensure Andy Dalton has a difficult time cracking the coverage code.
Eric Kendricks vs. Ezekiel Elliott
Last season, Minnesota beat Dallas largely because of their ability to shut down Ezekiel Elliott. Cooper was torching Mike Hughes, but it didn’t matter because Elliott had twenty carries, 47 yards, and no touchdowns. Fans may even remember the game-sealing play: a diving Eric Kendricks breaking up the fourth down pass between Dak Prescott and Elliott. On Sunday, the Vikings need Kendricks to continue excelling. If he shuts down Elliott, then we will need to start considering whether Kendricks should be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year.
Alexander Mattison vs. An Unbalanced Offense
One of the best parts of the MNF game (there were many) was that the Vikings proved they could win in multiple ways. Against Green Bay and Detroit, Minnesota won because Dalvin Cook was incredible. Against Chicago, Minnesota won because of a tremendous defense and a rock solid performance from Kirk Cousins. The issue, at least from our perspective, was that Cook still touched the ball 34 times. Alexander Mattison, in contrast, only touched the ball twice.
It goes without saying that Cook is the superior player. The problem, though, is that Cook’s workload isn’t sustainable. Cook had 32 touches against Green Bay and 24 against Detroit. Math wizards will tell you that over their past three games, Minnesota gave the ball to Cook 90 times. It’s an unsustainable pace, folks. The Vikings need to find some sort of balance, an approach that prioritizes the short-term gain of winning the football game while nevertheless keeping an eye on the long-term goal of keeping Cook healthy late this season and beyond.
Fans can point to Minnesota’s disastrous Week 6 offense against the hapless Falcons as reason for keeping Cook heavily involved. However, we mustn’t forget that Cousins screwed up that game pretty much on his own. The initial interception, for instance, had little to do with the talent in the backfield. In other words, Minnesota’s struggles in Week 6 went far beyond a rough game for Mattison. If the Vikings are actually serious about the playoffs, then it’s time to start getting Mattison move involved.
The Crystal Ball
While our overall record at TVG is still underwhelming, we are on a two-game prediction streak. We hope to keep the good times rolling when the Minnesota Vikings beat the Dallas Cowboys. Minnesota avoids the trap as they get within one game of the final playoff spot.
Offseason Prediction: Cowboys 30 – Vikings 24
Updated Prediction: Vikings 30 – Cowboys 24