What a difference a week makes. After the Dallas Cowboys lost to the Green Bay Packers, they knew they had questions to answer. Would they be able to shore up the run defense? Would they be able to clean up the miscommunication issues in the passing game? Most importantly, could they answer back versus a top team in the conference, in the form of the Minnesota Vikings?
The answers to those questions were a resounding yes. Dalvin Cook, and a potent Vikings offense, were held in check. Dak Prescott and his receivers were in perfect sync as he made light work of the Vikings’ secondary. The team deserves a lot of praise for how they responded, especially a select few that were this week’s five stars.
On the prowl
What more can you say about Micah Parsons? There’s nothing he can’t do. He can go 100MPH bending off the edge on the way to the quarterback. He can barrel over the center en route to the backfield. When Parsons is playing the way he did against Minnesota, nothing is getting in between the lion and his prey.
Parsons was able to pounce on the Vikings’ offensive line early in the game. On the opening drive, Parsons’ relentless effort was front and center. Minnesota was facing a 3rd and 3 and trying to extend the drive when Kirk Cousins dropped back to pass. Seeing nothing immediately, Cousins tried to extend the play outside the pocket to his right. Parsons, not to be denied, came from the other side of the play to chase down Kirk Cousins to force a fumble that the Cowboys recovered deep in Vikings territory.
That was the tip of the iceberg. Parsons was all over Cousins and the Vikings’ offensive line. Parsons finished his day with two sacks and five quarterback hits. Parsons didn’t single-handedly shut down the Vikings’ offense, but he might have been close as a one-man demolition team.
Purple people eaten by Pollard
One question Cowboys Nation was asking itself was how the Cowboys would manage the use of both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. The short answer is seamless. It’s long been believed that there are defined roles for each runner based on their unique skill sets. Elliott, the downhill bruiser, and Pollard, the elusive runner/pass catcher.
While it will be noted that the Cowboys worked both into the offense very well, Pollard is the lone back featured in ‘5 Stars’. His versatility was once again on display. When Pollard wasn’t freezing Vikings defenders in the hole, before bouncing it outside for a sizeable gain, he was terrorizing the Vikings’ defense in the passing game. Pollard scored twice through the air.
His first was set up by an excellent block from Dalton Schultz. Dak Prescott dropped back and scanned the field until he saw Pollard in the flat. Prescott delivered a shot pass to Pollard. Once Pollard was out in the open field, he made one defender miss and was in for the score.
His second touchdown catch came on a deep throw down the right sideline. Matched up with a linebacker, Pollard went sprinting downfield, pulling in a perfect pass from Prescott over his shoulder for a 68-yard touchdown. Pollard continued to shine, as he delivered a staggering 189 yards from scrimmage.
Maher does not miss. In his first stint with the team, many were pleased with Maher’s ability to make long-distance field goals. They weren’t pleased, however, with his consistency and accuracy. Since coming back to Dallas, Maher has been a changed man.
Maher made all four of his field goal attempts, including all four of his extra-point attempts. Two of his kicks were so important because they gave Dallas some much-needed momentum. His 53-yard field goal gave the Cowboys a 10-point lead and allowed them to exhale some after not being able to capitalize earlier on a forced turnover deep in Vikings territory.
Had Maher missed that kick, Minnesota would have been starting their next drive near midfield and down only one score. His other big kick was a 60-yard laser driven through the upright to end the first half, which he was forced to kick a second time because of questionable officiating. Presently, Maher is fourth in field goal percentage for kickers with twenty attempts or more at 90.9%. Maher has been absolute money.
McCarthy’s risk management
Mike McCarthy was under the microscope last week after losing a two-score lead in the fourth quarter. It was a completely different story against the Vikings.
The Cowboys controlled the time of possession with an advantage of 37:24 versus 22:36 for Minnesota. The reason for this was balance. Not only balance in the running game, but balance in properly weighing risks versus the rewards.
Leading 13-3 and having forced the Vikings to punt, the Cowboys began a drive at their 41-yard line with just over four minutes left in the first half. After scoring in Tony Pollard’s 30-yard touchdown reception, they were able to get the ball back.
Pinned deep in their territory and with only 31 seconds left in the half, McCarthy’s approach was perfect. Refusing to be conservative and let their foot off the gas, McCarthy’s offense was able to execute a two-minute drive in 41 seconds that was capped off by Maher’s 60-yard field goal. Well done, coach.
Dorance strongarms the Vikings’ offensive line
The Cowboys struggled mightily to rush the passer last week. It’s reasonable to think that is because Micah Parsons wasn’t his usual disruptive self. However, nobody else besides put consistent pressure on the quarterback. To be more specific, Dorance Armstrong.
Armstrong was rendered a non-factor last week and that trend could not continue in Minnesota. Armstrong, in the middle of a breakout season, was wrecking the Vikings’ offensive line. Minnesota’s unit was reshuffled due to injury and Armstrong was able to take advantage of the opportunity.
Armstrong was able to get to Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins for two sacks, his sixth and seventh of the year. He and Micah Parsons met Cousins in the backfield a few times. A welcome sight to see for a pass rush that needed to be more consistent.