A win can be beneficial in so many ways. For the Cowboys, not only did their upset over the Vikings put them right in the thick of things in the NFC East, but perhaps restored some confidence as well.
Here are my five points about this team as they head into a short week.
It is the perfect time to go on a run.
The Cowboys' season hasn't gone according to script but the team could reel off a few wins with the schedule breaking in their favor. The team faces five sub-.500 teams (out of six games) down the stretch with most of those squads dealing with quarterback issues. If those games were played today, the Cowboys would face the likes of Alex Smith, Ryan Finley, Nick Mullen, Carson Wentz and Daniel Jones down the stretch. Sure, the reigning MVP Lamar Jackson is on the schedule but he's not playing up to his lofty standards as an electric dual-threat playmaker.
That's why the Cowboys have a realistic shot at swiping the division crown despite their slow start. The defense should be able to keep opposing offenses under control with shaky quarterbacks under center. The inconsistent play could lead to more takeaways and prime scoring opportunities for a Cowboys' offense that showing signs of improvement. With only one elite defense (Baltimore) remaining on the schedule, the Cowboys are well-positioned to chalk up a few wins down the stretch.
The Cowboys find the right combination on the O-Line.
It is all about chemistry and continuity when it comes to the performance of the offensive line. The success of the unit comes down to communication (verbal and non-verbal) and execution. With Zack Martin joining Cam Erving at offensive tackle and Connor Williams alongside Joe Looney, the Cowboys were able to feature four veterans with 216 combined starts on the offensive line. The quartet's collective experience enabled the Cowboys to function better at the point of attack, particularly in the running game. In addition, improved chemistry and continuity of the unit resulted in solid pass protection for Andy Dalton.
Connor McGovern also benefitted from playing with a veteran-laden offensive line. The rookie was positioned beside Looney and Martin, which enabled the Cowboys to provide help when needed to the newcomer making his second career start. Through clever body positioning or outright assistance, the veterans were able to limit McGovern's exposure to one-on-one match-ups at the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys spent the first half of the season attempting to find the right combination on the frontline. The unit that took the field against the Vikings has the potential to spark a run to the NFC East title.
McCarthy's commitment to the run has given the Cowboys' offense an identity.
It is not a coincidence that the Cowboys are playing better complementary football since placing a greater emphasis on the running game in Week 8. The Cowboys have averaged 32.3 rush attempts and 152.3 rush yards over the past three games with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard featured prominently in the game plan. The 1-2 punch in the backfield has given the Cowboys' offense a more blue-collar feel while enabling the team to adopt a more conservative approach that more conducive to winning with their current personnel. Moreover, the commitment to a ground and pound game plan has reduced the negative plays and enabled the Cowboys to keep games competitive heading into the fourth quarter.
Donovan Wilson is the enforcer this secondary needs.
Despite the rules restricting big hits in the NFL, the presence of a "thumper" between the hashes is still essential to playing elite defense in today's game. Wilson has given the Cowboys the bad boy that they've desperately needed between the hashes. The second-year pro is a high-energy player with a knack for delivering smash shots on running backs and receivers in the middle of the field. Wilson not only displays outstanding anticipation and awareness finding the ball but he shows a willingness to throw his body around as a big hitter near the line of scrimmage. Those skills showed up in a major way with the young defender forcing a pair of fumbles on Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook with big hits to go along with his nine tackles and a half-sack.
From a schematic standpoint, Mike Nolan has started to tap into Wilson's skills as a blitzer to add dimension to the pass rush. He has shown an uncanny knack for slipping around blockers on the way to the quarterback. With Wilson showing some tenaciousness and playmaking ability as a big hitter roaming between the hashes, the Cowboys' defense has played significantly better since he's stepped into the lineup.
Who is next on the hot corner?
The Cowboys have struggled with injuries and poor play at cornerback since the beginning of the season. The lack of consistency on the island has resulted in balls flying over the top of the defense at an alarming rate.
With Trevon Diggs on injured reserve and Anthony Brown nursing a rib injury, the Cowboys could be forced to play with a practice squad player (Rashard Robinson or Saivion Smith) in the starting lineup. The lack of experience, scheme comprehension, and technique refinement poses a problem for a defense that struggles in coverage with the No.1s on the field. Those issues were apparent against the Vikings with Brown and Chidobe Awuzie torched repeatedly on the outside.
Considering Kirk Cousins' effectiveness in throwing the ball against the Cowboys, the WFT and others will test the Cowboys' young corners to see hold they hold up under pressure. Smith and Robinson didn't fare well during their debuts on the big stage. We will soon find out if they are ready for an encore.