The Cowboys and Vikings are two teams going in totally different directions.
In Dallas, excitement could not be higher as the Cowboys come into Thursdays Night’s pivotal match up on a 10 game winning streak. In Minnesota, however, the opposite is true.
After a 5-0 start made the Vikings look like the top team in the NFC, their offense has sputtered, injuries have piled up, and they have fallen to just 6-5. Two of those five losses have come at the hands of the current leaders of the NFC North, the Detroit Lions, all but closing Minnesota’s division title hopes.
They are still fighting, however, and have to be looking at this Cowboys defense as a chance to get back on track. Earlier this week rookie receiver Laquon Treadwell said that the Vikings will look to open up their passing game more on Thursday, and have been working on their downfield attack.
Watch out Dallas! Laquon Treadwell says “We’re going to have a chance to make plays down the field. We’ve been testing the waters this week
Treadwell hasn’t seen much action this year, and hasn’t been impressive when he has had chances. But the Vikings do still possess two dangerous vertical threats in wide-out Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Even with all-world running back Adrian Peterson still watching from the sidelines, fill-in backs Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon are still legit players which can make the Minnesota offense dangerous.
Still, their offense has been less-than-average, in large part due to a banged-up offensive line and, well, Sam Bradford. Bradford is 23rd in the league in Yards Per Attempt at just 6.43, while being sacked the 7th most times at 26. For comparison, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (a rookie!) is 3rd in YPA at 8.34 and 28th in sacks with only 15.
Regardless of these poor passing game numbers, the Vikings are still looking at the Cowboys defense as their chance to turn things around.
While the defense has been better than expected, the winning streak has certainly masked some serious issues.
Not the least of which is the weak, and I mean weak, pass rush. The Cowboys pass rush is so nonexistent that they don’t have a single player in the top 60 of the NFL in sacks. So even though the Vikings offensive line is bad, they have to feel like they can finally give Bradford significant time to throw this week.
Of course, on the Dallas side of things, they have to be hoping this is the week that guys like DeMarcus Lawrence finally hit their stride, and feast on weaker competition. But if it didn’t happen against the Eagles’ Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and it didn’t happen against Washington’s backup tackle Ty Nsekhe, then I am not confident it will finally happen this week.
One of the main reasons the Cowboys defense has been able to overcome their lack of a pass rush, besides the offense’s efficiency, is their prolific secondary. Morris Claiborne had emerged as the team’s best corner, Brandon Carr has played his best football since joining the Cowboys, Byron Jones and Barry Church have been solid safeties, and Anthony Brown has impressed at every turn.
But then, injuries happened. And while JJ Wilcox has been better than expected, he has no been nowhere near the level of a Barry Church. And while Orlando Scandrick is improving week by week, he hasn’t been as good as Morris Claiborne. Luckily, the Cowboys expect to get Church back for Thursday, but how good can we expect him to be in his first game back from injury?
Getting Church back will help, but this is still a defense which has given up passing yard totals of 449 and 408 in two of their last three games. What Dallas does have in their favor, however, is that Bradford is not as good a player as Ben Roethlisberger and Kirk Cousins are, and outside of Stefon Diggs, the Vikings don’t possess the weapons which the Steelers and Redskins do.
All in all, I expect the Cowboys to win this game. They are the better team, despite any of the deficiencies discussed in this piece. That doesn’t mean they won’t have their hands full, however, even though the Vikings appear to be sliding down the NFC standings.