There is nothing that makes you feel better about your favorite football team than a totally dominant win. The Dallas Cowboys delivered just that with their absolute 40-3 crushing of the Minnesota Vikings. Whatever questions we had about the Cowboys after their frustrating loss to the Green Bay Packers last week, they were answered in a big way. This was a game that was essentially over by halftime and just had a big cherry put on top after. The pass rush was getting sacks by the handful, the offense was scoring every time they got the ball, and even the penalties were not all going against the guys with the Star on their helmet.
The worry coming into the game was whether the Vikings would exploit the Cowboys’ run defense. Things certainly went well for Dallas in that aspect as they held Minnesota to just 48 yards on the ground in the first half, but just as important for that is building up a big lead so the opponent has to rely on the pass to try and make up ground. The Cowboys’ offense scored on every possession in the first half, with Ezekiel Elliott getting a one-yard rushing plunge, Tony Pollard scoring on a scintillating 30-yard pass and run assisted by an excellent block from Dalton Schultz, and Brett Maher adding three field goals.
That last thing deserves a special note. After nailing kicks of 27 and 53 yards, he lined up attempt a 60-yarder. But that was set up by a toe-tapping 27 yard catch by CeeDee Lamb. It was very close, and just before Maher got the ball over the crossbar, the referees called timeout for the booth to complete a review of the pass. That make was taken off the board, and after the catch was upheld, Maher lined up to try it again. He was right down the middle with plenty of distance to spare. I have to once again apologize to “Money” Maher for the doubts I expressed when the team brought him in as a last-minute attempt to solve their kicking situation.
But the real story was how Dak Prescott and the offense dominated in the first half. Although they failed to get a touchdown on their first possession after Micah Parsons separated the ball from Kirk Cousins on the Vikings first possession, they were incredibly efficient in the first half, converting eight of ten third downs. Prescott only threw two incomplete balls in the first half while amassing 141 yards and that nifty Pollard TD.
And things just got better. Dallas got the kickoff after halftime since Minnesota elected to receive after winning the coin toss. Facing a third and 14 after only the second negative play of the game, Prescott dropped back and found Pollard open with no one near him. The speedy back scampered 68 yards for the score, opening up a 30-3 lead with 12:32 remaining in the third quarter.
The defense also deserves credit. As they became more and more able to disregard the run, the pass rush started to tee off on Cousins, exemplified by DeMarcus Lawrence’s sack on the first Vikings play of the second half. That was the fifth sack of the game already, and Cousins was getting hit on almost every throw he did get away. And the sacks just kept coming, as Dante Fowler would get in on the fun just two plays after Lawrence.
Another thing to note was that the Cowboys remain the only team in the NFL to not give up a touchdown in the first quarter of any of their games. After the failure in the fourth quarter to protect a 14-point lead in their loss last week to the Green Bay Packers, the defense had something to prove, and they did so emphatically. That is the advantage of having the offense really cooking and forcing the opponent to have to go almost entirely to the pass.
One thing that has been a concern over the past few games is the lack of effective targets for Prescott. That was addressed in two ways. First, Kellen Moore finally got Pollard completely involved in the passing game. When he got his second receiving touchdown early in the third quarter, he was already over 100 yards receiving on six catches. Secondly, Prescott started connecting with Michael Gallup and Noah Brown as well as CeeDee Lamb. Brown had big play with a 35-yard reception to set up Elliott’s second one yard scoring run of the game.
That staked the team to a 37-3 lead with 8:15 left in the third quarter. That gave the defense a tremendous advantage, and with the way both Elliott and Pollard were gaining yards, the offense could just run the ball and bleed time off the clock.
One testament to just how dominant the Cowboys were in this game was that they did not punt the ball until their were about four minutes left in the third quarter. Another was how they not only kept Dalvin Cook in check on the ground, they largely nullified WR Justin Jefferson, who only had three catches for 33 yards through the end of the third quarter. This was a complete team win. We even saw the team roll out Jason Peters at left tackle with Tyler Smith kicked inside to left guard, a combination that may show up more and more down the stretch. And with the Thanksgiving Day game coming up just four days from now, they subbed in Malik Davis to give Elliott and Pollard a rest, with Cooper Rush coming out for the next Dallas possession to let Prescott rest up a bit. And with the way Cousins was being pummeled, the Vikings sent in Nick Mullens for the thankless task of closing out things. Many Cowboys fans were unaware of these developments as CBS switched away from the game outside of the Dallas market after the third quarter. However, they didn’t miss much. This game, the largest win on the road in Dallas history, was over long before the final whistle, and that was exactly what we wanted to see.