Five bold predictions, including how we could see a repeat performance from a Vikings rookie receiver against Dallas.
Jefferson will “Moss” the Cowboys
Remember when Randy Moss destroyed the Cowboys on Thanksgiving in 1998? We may be a couple of days early in this matchup, but there’s a great chance that Justin Jefferson could have a similar performance against Dallas on Sunday afternoon.
Jefferson is coming off one of the best overall games of his young career on Monday night as he caught eight passes for 135 yards in Minnesota’s win over the Chicago Bears.
In this game, the Vikings almost seemed to shift their philosophy that if Dalvin Cook gets stopped, it will be Jefferson who will make defenses pay for switching their focus on the backfield.
Since entering the starting lineup in Week 3, Jefferson has averaged 6.8 targets a game. Although he got 10 targets on Monday night, Minnesota might not throw the ball as much against Dallas with Cook also projected to have a big day.
But this won’t stop Jefferson from dismantling a Cowboys defense that has allowed 21 passing touchdowns this season — second-most behind the Atlanta Falcons.
Note that it only took Moss three receptions to collect 163 yards and three touchdowns in his breakout game back in 1998. Even if Jefferson gets the same volume, he should be in for a huge afternoon.
A health update of some key players.
As final preparations conclude for this battle on the road, the Cowboys have a few players on their defensive line whose availability was up in the air as DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory have been designated as questionable.
Lawrence has found his groove lately and is reminding everyone that he’s still one of the league’s best edge rushers. Over the last five games, he’s registered 23 tackles (six tackles for loss in the last three games), 10 pressures, six hurries, three sacks, four quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles. This all coming after not recording a single sack or hit on the quarterback in the first four games.
Head coach Mike McCarthy didn’t seem concerned about his best pass-rusher missing Sunday’s game, saying that everything points to him playing despite battling an illness.
Cowboys designated DE DeMarcus Lawrence (illness) and DE Randy Gregory (illness) as questionable Sunday to play vs. Vikings. Mike McCarthy expressed hope that both will be available. Gregory a limited participant today— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) November 20, 2020
C Tyler Biadasz (hamstring) ruled out. Joe Looney to start.
The Cowboys will be without center Tyler Biadasz who is still battling a hamstring injury suffered in pregame warmups in Week 9 against the Steelers. Luckily, the Cowboys have insurance at the position as veteran Joe Looney will make his second consecutive start after returning from an MCL Sprain suffered in Week 4 against the Cleveland Browns
Identifying the keys to victory.
The Cowboys will win if…
The Cowboys seemingly found their identity a few weeks ago but the Vikings will test their commitment to playing as a blue-collar squad. Mike McCarthy and Co. must commit to playing a complementary style of football that enables the offense to support the defense and special teams with their efforts. With Andy Dalton installed as the Cowboys’ QB1, the team needs a solid effort on the ground from Elliott and Tony Pollard to prevent the Vikings from selling out with an all-out blitz assault on the veteran quarterback. If the Cowboys are able to run the ball early, it will enable Dalton to exploit some favorable match-ups on the outside in the passing game. Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup should win their one-on-one match-ups but Dalton will need enough time to target them on downfield throws. If the Cowboys connect on three or more explosives (20-plus yards), the Vikings will need to remove defenders out of the box and concede some rushing yards to Elliott and Pollard.
Defensively, the Cowboys must play their most physical game of the year to slow down the Vikings’ running game. The defensive line must control the line of scrimmage while staying in their assigned gaps to prevent No.33 from squirting through a seam. Jaylon Smith and LVE must own the tackle-to-tackle box and keep Cook from getting to the second level. This will test the overall discipline of the front seven but a coordinated effort can help the Cowboys put the game back onto Cousins’ shoulders. Despite the Vikings’ success throwing the ball in recent week, the much-maligned quarterback struggled with turnovers early in the season and he is prone to critical mistakes in the clutch. If the Cowboys can make the Vikings throw on obvious passing downs, the turnovers could come in bunches.
Film room: 3 bold predictions for Cowboys-Vikings, including Randy Gregory’s first sack of the season - John Owning, Dallas Morning News
Three bold predictions, including how things will go down in the rookie receiver battle.
Lamb will outgain Jefferson in showcase of top rookies
Two of the NFL’s best rookie receivers will be on the field this Sunday for the Cowboys and Vikings.
Both receivers have put together outstanding rookie season so far, and it wouldn’t be surprising if either had a big day Sunday; however, I think the most likely game script should lend itself more to Lamb producing rather Jefferson.
While I expect the game to be relatively close, I think Minnesota will be playing with a lead most of the game, allowing them to stick to their preferred run-heavy game script, which will limit Jefferson’s opportunities. This means the Cowboys would likely be playing from behind, which will lead to a passing-heavy script from the Cowboys offense. In theory, this should lead to more opportunities in the passing game for Lamb than his rookie contemporary on the opposite sideline.
In addition, Lamb has a juicy matchup against Minnesota’s slot cornerback Jeff Gladney, who has allowed the ninth-most receiving yards (252) and tied for the most touchdowns (three) in slot coverage among CBs this season.
Weekly Cowboys notes, including how things could get ugly on the ground.
3. Stopping the run.
No team in the NFC allows more rushing yards per game than the Cowboys’ 157. The Vikings have the NFL’s fifth-best rushing attack, averaging 153.6 yards per game. Minnesota star running back Dalvin Cook, who had 183 all-purpose yards and a touchdown last year against the Cowboys, is leading the NFL in rushing with 954 yards in eight games. He also has an NFL-best 12 rushing touchdowns.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Vikings have a similar run scheme to the Cleveland Browns, who are coached by Kevin Stefanski, Minnesota’s offensive coordinator last season. Against the Browns in Week 4, the Cowboys allowed 307 rushing yards.
“I feel like we’re a different team,” Lawrence said when asked about the Vikings potentially having a similar result Sunday. “We’re playing totally different, energy is totally different and this will not be a repeat of the Browns game. I feel like our feet are underneath us, we’re starting to play with more of a football IQ and understand more of what our coaches want from us and we’re going out there and playing hard.”
Gut feelings for today’s game.
David Helman: The Cowboys deserve a lot of praise for the way they played against Pittsburgh, and they have been praised plenty. But let’s not get it twisted: they lost, and this is now a 2-7 team that has lost four-straight games. Playing better in defeat is not enough to convince me that they’ve turned a corner. I’ve said it a lot this week, but this game really feels like a litmus test for the rest of the season. The Vikings are a solid but flawed team that is also clawing to remain alive in the playoff hunt. If the Cowboys are actually rounding into a better team, they should be able to keep this game close – or maybe even win it. Unfortunately, I don’t see that second part happening. I think Minnesota has a slight edge at quarterback, and a definite edge with Dalvin Cook and their running game. I think Andy Dalton is going to play well and spark the offense to its best effort since Dak Prescott got hurt – something like 256 yards and two touchdowns. But I’m giving the edge to the Vikings, who will grind out a 27-21 win, largely thanks to Cook.
Final thoughts on how the Vikings can carve out their fourth straight win.
Emphasis on containing Elliott | By @pcraigers
The Cowboys are depleted on the offensive line and are missing starting quarterback Dak Prescott, but Dallas still has running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Since entering the NFL as the fourth overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, Elliott has been one of the toughest running backs to tackle. Elliott has been credited with 89 broken tackles, according to Sportradar, which ranks sixth in the NFL.
That elusiveness has helped Elliott total 5,977 rushing yards, which leads the NFL since 2016 by more than 1,000 yards (Todd Gurley II is next at 4,882). Elliott’s total includes 3,202 yards before contact and 2,775 after contact.
Elliott led the NFL in each of his first three seasons in rushing yards per game with 108.7 as a rookie, 98.3 in 2017 and 95.6 in 2018. Playing this season without some of his past running mates on the Dallas offensive line, Elliott is averaging 63.6 yards per game in 2020.
According to Sportradar, Elliott has totaled 161 rushes that have gained 10 or more yards during his NFL career. That number is 34 more than Gurley’s 127, which rank second since 2016. The 161 also includes 35 runs of 20 or more yards, which also leads the NFL in that span.
Elliott has been limited to 13 runs of 10-plus yards and just one of 20-plus this season, but the Vikings still believe he poses a tremendous threat.
“He’s explosive. He’s powerful. He’s got great vision. And he runs with a low pad level,” Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson said Thursday. “He has the ability to run through the first tackle, and that’s what makes him so dangerous. He loves to stretch the ball and then put his foot in the ground and then cut back downhill full-speed. I think that’s what makes him a special running back.”
Like everyone else on this team, Zeke is impacted by Dak’s absence and the banged up offensive line.
Expert predictions for Cowboys-Vikings: Will Andy Dalton, defensive improvement put Dallas over the top at Minnesota? - Staff, Dallas Morning News
Some weekly predictions.
So the Cowboys believe they’ve turned the corner from a defensive standpoint, especially after the effort against the Steelers before the bye week. Now with Andy Dalton expected back, no taste buds and all, this is another test for this Cowboys team to see if it can get back in the NFC East race. Not happening. Vikings are on a roll.
Vikings 31, Cowboys 17.
It’s almost unanimous in the favor of the Vikings, but this is one anomaly.
Just when Vikings fans thought the schedule was safest, they run into a ... surprisingly competitive Dallas team? Was the Pittsburgh game a complete mirage, or a sign of a corner being turned? Regardless, Andy Dalton brings the offense back up to 3/4 speed, Zeke Elliott should find at least a few running lanes and the Dallas defense tries to prove its shutdown of the Steelers’ run game means Dalvin Cook will work for his yards Sunday afternoon.
Cowboys 20, Vikings 16.
Is it possible that this one comes down to the wire?
It’s pretty easy to say that the game will come down to the play of the quarterbacks. In the modern NFL that’s just one step up from, “whoever scores the most points will win.” But Dalton and Kirk Cousins are both huge x-factors who are capable of big swings in either direction.
We saw Good Dalton when he stepped in for an injured Dak Prescott and helped Dallas stay solvent and get a division win over the Giants. But when Zack Martin got hurt quickly in the following game, the offense crumbled and Andy was as much as fault for that as anyone.
Cousins has also been a mixed bag this year. His 11 interceptions so far in 2020 is second-most in the league behind Carson Wentz, but only one of those was thrown since the bye week. And surprise-surprise, the Vikings haven’t lost any games since he stopped giving the ball away.
Dallas and Minnesota aren’t that different in their overall team rankings. Still riding the stats that Prescott put up earlier this year, the Cowboys’ offense is ranked 8th overall and the Vikings are right behind them in 9th place. Defensively, Dallas is 23rd and Minnesota 24th in yards allowed per game.
The Cowboys will have an extra week of rest and prep from the bye while the Vikings just played last Monday night. Even if Minnesota is the better team, is it close enough for those factors to swing things Dallas’ way?
Check to see if the game is being televised in your area courtesy of the coverage map from 506 sports.
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