The Vikings let another game slip away last Sunday. It was a winnable road game against a very good opponent that went awry due to a misplay here or bad execution there. Sound familiar? It should. Those kinds of losses are beginning to piling up and they loom large regarding the Vikings’ postseason hopes. Of course, all the games contribute to the team’s postseason fate, and that includes the big game coming this Sunday night in Dallas against the Cowboys.
The Vikings never have to “get up” to play the Cowboys. Their shared history always presents plenty of incentive (the Hail Mary game, Bud versus Tom Landry, Moss versus Jerry Jones, etc.), but this one is huge for the Vikings if they want to make the postseason. They have another chance to prove themselves (to everyone including themselves, frankly) able to win a road game against a winning opponent in prime time. Win, and, as we have seen this season, the team’s prospects turn around for a week, and people think they are world beaters. Lose and you can get ready to write the epitaph on the season—something like “a team with potential that can’t win big games and wouldn’t go anywhere in the playoffs if they did.” Not exactly what we are all looking for from the 2019 Minnesota Vikings.
The good news is that the Vikings have been in every game this season except for the first quarter of the Green Bay Packers game and the entire Chicago Bears game. The bad news is that they lose these games which they have every chance to win. The Vikings should have beaten the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday but didn’t and now we are left with a week of hand wringing and calling for the heads of players, quarterbacks, GMs and the next person you see walking down the street.
Well, that changes on Sunday night. Of those losses, the Packers game came down to a very bad quarterback decision, the Chiefs game was poor blocking, play calling and sub-par secondary play and the Bears game was just inexplicable. But the Vikings have bounced back well in the week following each of the first two losses, so they should do so again this Sunday night.
The Cowboys are 5-3 and atop the lackluster NFC East. They have wins against some league bottom-dwellers (that includes four wins combined from Washington, the Giants and the Dolphins—plus the 5-4 Philadelphia Eagles). The one quality win against the Eagles they can hang their hat on, but that is offset by losses to the Packers at home, the New Orleans Saints on the road and the New York Jets on the road . . . well, it’s inexcusable wherever you lose to the Jets this season.
The Cowboys don’t have much to write home about, and they will be returning there after a convincing win over the Giants on the road last Monday night. Still, the Cowboys should be a decent team. There was plenty of Super Bowl talk around them in the preseason, until running back Ezekiel Elliot’s holdout derailed it. They have plenty of talent on the offensive line, in the backfield with Zeke and quarterback Dak Prescott, on the outside with Amani Cooper and Randall and even in returning tight end Jason Whitten.
The Boys won their first two games before hitting the skids, for three consecutive games, and suddenly those old familiar questions of head coach Jason Garrett’s job security started floating around. The two subsequent wins have settled things down temporarily in Arlington, but the Vikings have an opportunity to upset things again with a convincing win.
That will take some doing, as is the case with all road games in this league. It might even require a little luck. ESPN wrote a story about the Cowboys’ game on Monday where they were struggling until a black cat ran onto the field and, perhaps, broke a curse:
“When a black cat ran on the field in the second quarter Monday, things certainly did not favor the Cowboys, with quarterback Dak Prescott’s first pass of the game intercepted, wide receiver Randall Cobb losing a fumble and place-kicker Brett Maher missing a 54-yard field goal attempt to the left. But after the cat scampered off the MetLife Stadium field, the Cowboys’ luck changed, and they were fortunate enough to leave with a 37-18 win, having outscored the Giants 34-9 after the feline left the field.”
It will take more than that for the Vikings to turn things around from their dispiriting loss to the Chiefs. The Cowboys offense is number one in the league, putting up 436.8 yards per game and number five in points scored with 28.4 per game (but please remember their opponents). That will require a better performance out of the Vikings defense than they offered last Sunday. The Cowboys can move the ball on the ground (ranked fourth with 149.3 ypg.) and through the air (fourth, 287.5 ypg.), and the Vikings didn’t slow down Matt Moore and the Chiefs much last week.
On defense, the Cowboys are ranked 6th in yards allowed, giving up 318.1 ypg. and 5th in points allowed with 17.8, just behind the Vikings defense at 17.6 per game. The Dallas defense is strong throughout—they are ranked 7th against the pass (giving up 220.9 ypg.) and they are ranked 11th against the run, allowing 97.3 rushing yards per game. If the Cowboys learned something from the Chiefs’ approach to stopping Dalvin Cook last week, the Purple could be in for another prime time nightmare on Sunday.
But we go back again to the Cowboys’ opponents. They haven’t beaten a lot of great teams—well they haven’t beaten any. Of course, the Vikings resume’ this season isn’t much to boast about either, with their only win over a team currently above .500 also being the Eagles. The six Vikings wins do come against teams with a combined number of wins at 16 (the Cowboys have nine—11 if you count the Giants twice), which is a little better than the Cowboys’. So, the Vikings needn’t be setting down to write any letters home either.
The bottom line is that the Vikings, in this writer’s estimation, are a better team than Dallas. But they are going to have to prove that on Sunday night. They will have to play their best football to beat the Cowboys, and if they don’t get blinded by the prime time lights (we’re looking at you, Kirk Cousins), they should be able to come home with a much-needed win against a quality opponent on the road in a nationally television game—thank goodness it is not on natural grass. It says here that they will, in another cliffhanger.