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Cowboys at Vikings: Dallas needs to get back to being the team they were built to be

For the third year in a row, the Cowboys visit the Vikings, this time with Minnesota atop the NFC at 8-1.

Dallas Cowboys v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys complete their midseason tour through the NFC North with a familiar stop at the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday, their third road game at the Vikings in as many seasons. The Cowboys have won both meetings against former Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, and neither with their starter Dak Prescott.

Andy Dalton and Cooper Rush were the winning signal-callers the last two times these teams met, with Rush’s primetime win on a Sunday night being a defining moment for Mike McCarthy’s team last year. The confidence this team found in their backup QB that night carried over into this season, where Rush won four of five early season starts to keep NFC East hopes alive for Prescott.

Even with last week’s setback at the Packers, the Cowboys are very much alive in the division thanks to the Commanders upsetting the Eagles on Monday night. If an inefficient offense late last season was the Achilles heel that derailed a promising season, the focus has shifted firmly to Dan Quinn’s defense against the run after struggling against Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon.

The Cowboys have seen their offense put up points in bunches with Prescott back in the lineup, and may need another big game on that side of the ball to keep the Vikings out of the run game with Dalvin Cook. Cook’s career high in carries is 32, but his 26- and 27-carry games in two of the last three against Dallas both rank in the top ten over his six seasons. Quinn’s defense wants to get back to doing what they do best, rushing a pocket passer like Kirk Cousins, but must get better fundamentally against the run while finding an answer for Justin Jefferson.

Minnesota Vikings v Buffalo Bills Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

Jefferson pulled off the catch of the year so far in the Vikings instant-classic win at the Bills, which has Cousins playing with confidence with his team in first place at 8-1. His career 2-8 record against the Cowboys features two wins from AT&T Stadium, never beating Dallas in Washington or Minnesota. While current momentum for both teams would say the Vikings should be favored, Vegas still has the Cowboys as road favorites off their overtime loss in Green Bay.

If last year’s win at the Vikings was proof the Cowboys could be resilient and find new ways to win, this Sunday needs to be a showing from the team they’ve been methodically building towards being. CeeDee Lamb will draw a potentially tough cover in Patrick Peterson, but is coming off a career game with two touchdowns and proving himself as a top receiver more every week.

Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard can get back to giving the Cowboys a dynamic duo in the backfield, helping Kellen Moore’s offense sustain drives to keep the defense fresh. The Cowboys emphasized a ball control style of offense to start the Packers game, and it backfired when Aaron Rodgers created big plays against their aggressive defense.

The Vikings are firmly in a playoff spot for the first time in two seasons, preparing to host another team that can only be defined by what they do in the postseason this year. When the midseason turbulence hit the Cowboys last year, they at least had the NFC East in their back pocket to buy time. Finding themselves in a much more competitive race behind the Eagles and Giants currently, the Cowboys can’t afford many more letdowns like their OT loss to the Packers.

Bouncing back against the Vikings is well within their reach, with memories of Amari Cooper’s game-winning touchdown in this matchup last year a reminder of how dependent they currently are on Prescott. Proving he can win these high-profile games eluded the Cowboys QB once again in the Packers game, but facing Cousins can be an extension of the NFC East dominance he’s had since 2016.

Another receiver besides Lamb will need to make plays in this game, as the Cowboys look to avoid more costly turnovers against a defense that ranks fifth in interceptions, fourth in fumble recoveries, but tied for 31st in yards per attempt allowed.

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