The Minnesota Vikings (6-3) travel to Dallas this weekend to take on the Cowboys (5-3) in a big Sunday night matchup. This game is pivotal to both teams in their pursuit of a playoff berth. Dallas is coming off a blowout win over the New York Giants on Monday night. Minnesota is coming off a tough three-point loss at Kansas City last weekend.
The story of this game may very well be which running back preforms better. The Vikings have the league-leading rusher in Dalvin Cook, and Dallas has their own star, Ezekiel Elliott. The Vikings and Cowboys rank third and fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game, both averaging over 145 yards a game.
Both teams also have very solid defenses. The Vikings have allowed just 17.6 points per game, fourth best in the league, and they are holding opponents to just 95 rushing yards a game, eighth best in the league. Dallas is just one spot behind the Vikings in points per game, allowing just 17.8. They also have allowed 221 passing yards a game, seventh best in the NFL.
This figures to be a great matchup, so before Dallas and Minnesota go head to head, check out our three predictions for the game.
1. The Dallas defense holds Vikings’ running back Dalvin Cook under 95 rushing yards.
At the beginning of the season, a common theme for the Dallas defense was being unable to stop the run. No game comes to mind more than the matchup with the Green Bay Packers, where Aaron Jones ran all over the Cowboys for 107 yards and four touchdowns. However, since their matchup with the Packers, the Cowboys’ defense has not allowed a running back to record more than 50 yards rushing in a game.
Dallas has faced some of the more talented runners in the league during this stretch in Le’veon Bell, Jordan Howard, and Saquon Barkley. This week, the Dallas run defense will be tested more than it has all season. Dalvin Cook comes to town, and the NFL leading rusher has had an outstanding season.
Cook has rushed for at least 95 yards in six of the Vikings nine games, and has broken the 110 mark five times. In Week 2 against Green Bay, Cook went for 154 yards on 20 carries, and more recently in Week 7 against Detroit, Cook rushed for 142 yards on 25 carries.
1,116 total yards.— NFL (@NFL) November 2, 2019
@dalvincook whipped up a monster first half of the 2019 season. #Skol
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The former Florida State Seminole is the engine that makes the Vikings’ offense go. When Cook rushes for over 95 yards, Minnesota is 5-1. The blueprint is clear, if you want to beat the Vikings, you have to contain Cook. Easier said than done, but the Dallas defense will do that this Sunday.
The Cowboys likely will be getting Leighton Vander Esch back on defense, which will be a huge addition in stopping the run. With Michael Bennett added to the defensive front, Dallas clearly has enough talent to stop a talented rusher. Last week they were terrific against Saquon Barkley, courtesy of a big day from DeMarcus Lawrence. If Dallas wants to win this game, they need a big day out of number 90 again on Sunday.
The key for the Cowboys is if they can just limit Cook, they put the ball in Kirk Cousins’ hands. Cousins has had no success against Dallas in his career, posting a 1-6 record against the Cowboys. Cook will not be completely shut down on Sunday, but the Dallas defense will do enough to contain him and hold him under 95 yards for just the fourth time this season.
2. Ezekiel Elliott steals the show, rushing for 125 plus yards to go with two touchdowns.
For all that talk about Dalvin Cook, the Cowboys still have the best running back in football on their side, Ezekiel Elliott. Last week against New York Elliott absolutely dominated, rushing for an easy 139 yards. The past two weeks the Dallas offensive line has been outstanding in the running game and it has resulted in back-to-back 100 yard games for Zeke.
Ezekiel Elliott was dominant on Monday night, as was the offensive line, but he had some really nice runs that were due to him squeaky through some tight creases. pic.twitter.com/lQeZGmjfXd— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) November 6, 2019
Sunday will be no different, and Elliott will show the world on national TV who the real best running back in football is. Despite all the talk of Elliott having a “down year”, he still has rushed for 100 plus yards in five of the Cowboys eight games, and in one game against Green Bay where he didn’t he just could not get enough carries as the team got in such a big hole so early.
Minnesota has allowed just two 100 yard rusher so far this season, and that number will increase on Sunday. Yes the Vikings’ run defense has great numbers on the year, allowing opposing teams to average just 95 yards on the ground, but they have not faced a runner close to as talented as Elliott. When Minnesota played the Giants, Saquon Barkley was out. When they faced Aaron Jones, he went for over 100 yards. Last weekend Damien Williams of the Kansas City Chiefs ran for 125 against them as well.
Jones and Williams are solid backs, but no where near the level of Ezekiel Elliott. Sunday Elliott will control the game from the opening snap, leading to 125 plus yards, two rushing touchdowns, and ultimately a Cowboys victory.
3. Dallas wins the battle of the running backs, 28-24.
If you broke down these two teams position-by-position, you would find they are very evenly matched. Both teams rely on the running game to be the catalyst of their offense. Both teams have very talented offensive and defensive lines, and both have solid secondaries.
The place where Dallas has the clear edge is at the quarterback spot. Say what you will about Kirk Cousins this season and his 16 touchdowns to just three interceptions, but simply put he just cannot beat the Dallas Cowboys. Cousins’ 1-6 record will go to 1-7 after Sunday as he will clearly be outperformed by Prescott. In late afternoon or night games Cousins has a career record of 9-23. When the lights shine brightest, Cousins usually does not.
The Vikings’ defense is talented enough that they will not allow Prescott to have huge day, but he will do what Cousins will not, take care of the football. In the battle of the running backs Ezekiel Elliott will clearly outshine Dalvin Cook. Dallas will get to Cousins to record two sacks, but more importantly will force him into a costly turnover late in the game. Dan Bailey also will miss a big field goal right before the half that would have given Minnesota the lead.
The Cowboys will continue to roll, pushing their winning streak to three in a row.