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5 things to watch when the Cowboys play the Vikings

When the Cowboys take on the Vikings, keep an eye on these interesting subplots.

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

For the fourth-straight season, the Dallas Cowboys will play against the Minnesota Vikings. Why is that you might ask? Non-divisional conference opponents typically only show up on the schedule once every three years. The Cowboys play the entire NFC North this season as they also did three years ago in 2019, but they also drew the Vikings in 2020 and 2021 as well. That’s because Minnesota finished in the same place in the divisional standings as the Cowboys did the prior season meaning that’s who they get for their one NFC North opponent during those years. Needless to say, these two teams are becoming quite familiar with each other recently.

What will we see on Sunday? Can the Cowboys go on the road, right the ship, and beat an 8-1 Vikings team? Or will they keep sliding like they did at the end of the Green Bay game and have their first losing streak of the season? The range of outcomes is wide, but here are five things we should keep an eye out for in the one.

1. Must stop the run

It’s common knowledge for even the fairest weather of Cowboys fans that this team is having all kinds of trouble stopping the run. And with the likes of Dalvin Cook, who averages five yards per carry, strutting into town, well, that’s not encouraging.

Oddly enough, the Vikings are a little bit schizophrenic in the running game. They’ve put up some huge rushing games against Arizona (173 yards) and Buffalo (146) recently, but they’ve also been stuffed against Washington (46) and Philadelphia (56). When speaking with Christopher Gates, from SB Nation’s The Daily Norseman, he said the variance comes from whether their opponents have good interior linemen (like the Commanders and Eagles do).

The Cowboys' issues against the run have come on the edge, but they’ll need reinforcements across the board against Minnesota. All eyes will be on the Cowboys’ defenders and how they are able to counter the Vikings' rushing attack.

2. The air show

While stopping the run will be a concern, it’s worth noting that Minnesota loves to throw the ball. They run passing plays on 64% of their plays which ranks them top five in the league. With weapons like Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and now T.J. Hockenson (who they added at the trade deadline), Kirk Cousins has a lot of quality weapons to choose from. Unlike some of the Cowboys' recent opponents who have committed to the ground attack to run all over them, the Vikings also possess firepower through the air as well. It’s going to take a balanced defense to stop Minnesota on Sunday.

No NFL team has beaten Cousins more than the Cowboys (career 2-8 vs. Dallas), but that doesn’t mean he isn’t effective through the air. Cousins has 18 touchdowns compared to just five interceptions and has a career passer rating of 101.6 against the Cowboys.

3. The rematch

Justin Jefferson is one of the best wide receivers. Trevon Diggs is known in NFL circles as one of the top corners in the league. We get it. These guys are good. When Jefferson played the Cowboys during his rookie season in 2020, he had three catches for 86 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown. Diggs was on injured reserve at the time.

Last year, the two squared off for the first time. Diggs got the better of the Vikings' young star receiver as he only allowed one catch for three yards. Even more impressive was that Kirk Cousins hardly ever looked his way. That’s super odd considering Jefferson is one of the most targeted receivers in the league (second behind Tyreek Hill this season). In his 40 career NFL starts, Justin Jefferson has never been targeted fewer times than in the game against Dallas last year. That’s how you shut down a big weapon.

The question now becomes, can Diggs do it again? This is an extremely difficult challenge for Diggs, but the third-year corner has a knack for showing up against big-name receivers. Fingers crossed.

4. Ball security

The Vikings do not have the defensive prowess they did during the majority of the Mike Zimmer era as they have given up 3,431 yards so far this season. That is the fourth-worst in the NFL. While they give up the yards, the points don’t come as often for their opponents as they are middle of the pack in points allowed.

One big reason for this is that their defense loves to take the ball away. They are ranked second in the league with 18 takeaways as they are top five in both interceptions and fumble recoveries. The Minnesota defense has taken the ball away at least once in every single game this season.

The Cowboys are coming off a self-defeating game where turnovers cost them dearly. They threw two interceptions, one of which was in the end zone, taking away points, and both of them turned into eventual touchdowns for the Packers. The Dallas offense can’t be giving away freebies if they want to come away with the win in this one.

5. Coming down to the wire

After last week’s overtime game, the last thing Cowboys fans want is another nail-biter. However, if history is any indication, this could be exactly what’s in store for us on Sunday. In each of the last six times these teams have met, the game has been decided by four points or less. Last year, it was the Cooper Rush-to-Amari Cooper game-winning touchdown with just 51 seconds left. The year before that, it was the Andy Dalton-to-Dalton Schultz game-winning touchdown with just under two minutes left. And the year before that, the Cowboys had a chance to go ahead with 40 seconds left but came up short on fourth down at the Vikings' 14-yard line. Dallas did get one final chance that resulted in a Dak Prescott Hail Mary pass that was intercepted by then-Viking Jayron Kearse.

For whatever reason, these two teams have played each other close, so why would we expect that to change?

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