How Can the Vikings Beat the Cowboys?
The Minnesota Vikings started the 2022 season with a wonderful 8-1 record. That win total is tied for the best in the NFL, and that’s surprising, especially because the organization is working with first-time head coach Kevin O’Connell and first-time general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah without having a lot of roster turnover from last season.
Their Week 11 opponent made only minor changes to the team, as the coaching staff and roster are mostly the same as the team that beat the Vikings on Halloween in 2021 with backup quarterback Cooper Rush. The Cowboys have a 6-3 record and are third in the NFC East, a surprisingly competitive division with every team at .500 or better. Minnesota already has a big lead in the NFC North and could even increase the lead with a victory. That would put them in an even better position to compete for the first overall seed.
Dallas is coming off a heartbreaking loss against the Packers, including a comeback win from Green Bay. That game showed some weaknesses of the Cowboys, and the Packers took advantage. What are some Cowboys disadvantages the Vikings should exploit?
Cowboys Offensive Line
A strength of the Vikings matches up perfectly with a Dallas weakness. The days of the dominant offensive line from half a dozen years ago are long gone, and the unit slowly declined to an average one.
Star left tackle Tyron Smith is missing the season on injured reserve, center Travis Frederick retired years ago, and La’el Collins is protecting Joe Burrow in Cincinnati. The team also lost guard Connor Williams to the Dolphins in free agency. Right guard Zack Martin is left of the glory days, and the five-time first-team All-Pro is still one of the elite linemen in the game.
Starting at left tackle will be rookie Tyler Smith. He was a first-round pick from Tusla and has been a weak link. While he has not been bad by any means, it has to be seen if Smith can protect quarterback Prescott from star linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter. The two have been the top edge duo in the league. On the right side will start third-year player Terence Steele.
Guard Conor McGovern and center Tyler Biadasz could be the targets from Smith’s nasty inside rushes when the Vikings line him up over the interior weakness of the line and try to force a one-on-one matchup. Prescott is a solid quarterback under pressure, but his efficiency drops when he can’t sit in the pocket all day.
Cowboys Running Defense
The Cowboys are a fantastic defense against the pass, but their Achilles heel is defending the run. Like the offensive line, the running defense is not a disaster, but it’s not easy to find catastrophic weaknesses on excellent teams. The defensive front is built with quick and fast players and lacks powerful run stuffers. For that reason, offenses can sometimes impose their will and run the football. The Packers rushed for 207 yards last Sunday.
The Vikings have one of the better run-blocking offensive lines in the league, and most of the blockers have their strength in the running game. If the offensive line can play bully ball with the Cowboys, they won’t have a problem moving the ball. The question is, however, if the Vikings can push around the opponents, just like Christian Darrisaw has been doing all year. His matchup against Micah Parsons is one of two elite players and will be fun to watch.
Where Do the Cowboys Have Advantages?
CeeDee Lamb is the Cowboys’ top receiver, and he can line up all over the field to find favorable matchups. He could attack third-stinger Andrew Booth. The rookie will start because neither Cameron Dantzler nor Akayleb Evans is available.
Another good matchup for him will be in the slot against Chandon Sullivan. The weakness in the Vikings’ defense is the short outside passing game and in the slot, while they are good deep. That’s precisely how Lamb shredded the Vikings last year for 112 receiving yards. Prescott prefers to throw between the numbers, so to line up Lamb inside is a good option.
The rushing offense of Dallas is historically good, and 2022 is no exception. Per DVOA, the Cowboys have the second-best running attack in the league, only trailing the Baltimore Ravens. The Vikings, meanwhile, will once again be without starting defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson who has been fantastic in 2022.
Both Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott will be available. Pollard has been the more effective player this season, but a rotation can keep both guys fresh and dangerous for the Vikings. Stopping the run, as well as in recent weeks, will be a huge challenge for the Vikings and a big step toward winning the game.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt