After an astounding win in Buffalo, the Vikings have finally begun to garner respect around the NFL. Minnesota has been able to compile an exceptional win streak of 7 games on the voyage to their 8-1 record, but criticisms related to their strength of schedule have forced people to question the quality of the team. Beating Josh Allen and the Bills in Buffalo was a statement win for the Vikings, but they have more to prove ahead of a threatening stretch of games, beginning with a duel against Dallas this Sunday.
Hot take: the Vikings are a good football team. Led by Kirk Cousins who – even in a relatively “off” year – has been top 10 in passing touchdowns and passing yards to this point in the season, the Vikings have a vicious offense that seems to have no ceiling.
One of Minnesota’s most talented players is Dalvin Cook, who has been an overlooked key to the Vikings’ success so far this season. Cook has the 8th most rushing yards this season with 727 yards on 145 attempts, meaning he averages 5 yards per run. Cook is reliable when the ball is in his hands; whether it is handed to him or thrown to him, The Chef is an exceptionally smart runner, knowing when to make cuts and where to detect holes that will grant him extra yardage. With 7 total touchdowns so far, Cook has the 6th most touchdowns of any running back, proving that he is hard to bring down, and even harder to keep out of the end zone.
This Dallas defense is certainly talented, but their ability to stop the run has been… inadequate. The Cowboys have really struggled to contain rushers, allowing the 3rd most rushing yards per game at 143, and allowing the 26th most yards per rush. The Vikings would be remiss to not challenge this notably poor run defense, and will likely give Cook a high volume of carries as to allow him to control the pace of the game, and rip off some big plays.
The challenge for this Dallas defense is that they cannot only direct their attention to stopping Cook’s run game because that would open up Minnesota’s lethal air attack, piloted by the one and only Justin Jefferson. Now, what can I say about Justin Jefferson that you don’t already know. I won’t waste your time by mentioning a slew of impressive stats and all the records he has broken at this point in his young career – you know he’s good, I know he’s good, Dallas knows he’s good, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to slow him down.
The Cowboys do however have a formidable pass defense that won’t make it easy for Cousins and Jefferson. They are the 4th best defense in terms of passing yards per game, and also the 4th best in terms of passing yards per attempt. The Cowboys’ pass rush is the heart of their impressive pass defense. Led by the magnificent Micah Parsons, The Boys lead the league in sacks with a jarring total of 35 through 9 games. Parsons is responsible for 8 of those sacks and has been demonstrating his defensive dexterity as he also has a total of 10 tackles for loss and 2 forced fumbles this season. Demarcus Lawrence has been working in perfect tandem with Parsons to disrupt quarterbacks with 5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, and 2 of his own forced fumbles.
The second cornerstone of this Dallas pass defense is of course the very divisive Trevon Diggs, who has been profiting beautifully from the disruption caused by the Cowboys’ suffocating pass rush. Diggs has 3 interceptions so far this season (T-4th in the league), and an even more impressive 12 pass deflections which puts him at 2nd in the NFL in that category. Diggs is a very talented player that struggles with consistency, but is certainly someone that the Vikings have to keep an eye on come Sunday.
Dak has been back, and the Cowboy’s high-powered offense has been firing away in recent weeks. And by “firing away” I mean running the ball a lot. Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott have proven to be a very efficient rushing duo, combining to earn Dallas the 8th most rushing yards per game. Despite Ezekiel Elliott shouldering the majority of the load with 109 runs, Pollard leads the team with 621 rushing yards, and 6 touchdowns (excluding QBs). Dallas can evidently do a lot of damage on the ground in Minnesota and will test the Vikings’ unstable rush defense.
While Minnesota has a lot of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, it will take a more complete performance to shut down Dallas’ run game while keeping Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb quiet. The Vikings have a deadly pass rush duo of their own in Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith, two players that have a combined sack total of 15.5, but the Viking secondary has rarely been able to capitalize on the pressures caused by the line. Coming off of a 150 receiving-yard performance, CeeDee Lamb will be looking to rip apart this young and injury-ridden Viking cornerback depth chart. While the 2 Viking veterans Patrick Peterson and Harrison Smith have a combined total of 7 interceptions this year, the secondary as a whole has had a hard time nullifying opposing receivers and denying competitions, allowing the 3rd most yards per pass in the NFL.
This matchup in Minnesota looks to be a balanced battle, but the Vikings will be searching to add an 8th game to their win streak and solidify themselves as an NFL powerhouse.