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Big Picture: 5 Storylines for Cowboys & Vikings

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Dallas comes off the bye week with a new glimmer of hope following a tight loss to the undefeated Steelers in Week 9.

However, the next step in turning around a 2-7 start includes traveling to Minnesota in search of their first road win of 2020 against a team that enters with a three-game winning streak and is desperate to stay in the hunt for their division as well.

Here are five more important storylines for each team heading into Sunday's matchup with the Vikings.

Vikings

  • To stay alive in the highly contested NFC North division, Minnesota desperately needed a win over their bitter-rival Chicago on Monday Night Football. They got exactly that by holding on late and limiting Chicago to just 149 total yards on the road in the 19-13 win. Quarterback Kirk Cousins secured his first Monday night win in seven tries by tossing a pair of touchdown passes, each to Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen.
  • Fourth-year tailback Dalvin Cook has been on a tear this season as he leads the way with 12 touchdowns including at least one in each game until Monday. Chicago controlled the line of scrimmage for the most part and held Cook to 96 yards on a season-high 30 attempts. Cook held on to his league-best rushing total (954 yards) following Week 10 over Derrick Henry (946) as he prepares to take on a defense who still ranks 31st in the NFL in rushing allowed. Stopping Cook will be a major concern for the Dallas defense this week despite stringing back-to-back weeks together without allowing a 100-yard rusher for just the second time this season.
  • While the defense had their way against the Chicago, the special teams unit continued to be a struggle for head coach Mike Zimmer. So much so, that when asked after the game about if the special teams were expediting the aging process, Coach Zimmer replied with a simple "yes." The only Chicago touchdown of the game belonged to former Viking Cordarrelle Patterson who took the opening kick of the second half back 104 yards for his eighth return touchdown of his career. That mistake put the Bears back in the driver's seat and quickly shifted momentum in favor of the home squad. To make the special teams' situation worse for Minnesota, following their go-ahead score in the fourth quarter, a low snap derailed a Dan Bailey point-after attempt and kept the Vikings lead at just six points. Once again this gave the Bears ample opportunity to take over the game, before the Minnesota defense saved the day.
  • Minnesota has resurrected their season after a pitiful 1-5 start to the year. The Vikings have strung together three straight wins as they remain in the hunt for playoff consideration. With an expanded postseason in 2020 and potentially more expansion on the way, Minnesota actually sits in decent position for a playoff run despite the 4-5 record. They've gained confidence from recent victories and been able to hold off late charges from opponents where, early in the season, they were unable to. Mike Zimmer addressed this earlier in the week when he stated, "We've been able to put the fire out. The more times you do that, the more you believe you can do it.
  • One of the most impressive parts of the Vikings winning streak is the way they've managed multiple injuries in the secondary. Rookie Cam Cameron Dantzler was out with a concussion last week along with safety Miles Dorn, and corners Holton Hill, Mark Fields, and Mike Hughes. The Vikings had to patch together help around rookie and TCU-product Jeff Gladney to even fill the roster spots taken by the crazy number of injuries. Regardless, the adjustments worked to the tune of just 106 yards through the air from Nick Foles and a combined 41 yards of Chicago rushing offense.

Cowboys

  • 2020 has certainly been a wild year for everyone, but maybe more so for the Dallas Cowboys, who sit at 2-7 and still just one-and-a-half games back from the division lead in the NFC East after both Washington and Philadelphia lost in Week 10. Between the four teams in the division, there are a combined 10 wins through ten weeks and the Cowboys have the second-easiest remaining schedule in the NFL in front of them.
  • Another positive from the Cowboys camp is the return of quarterback Andy Dalton is on schedule for this week. Dalton spent the last few weeks of the season on the sideline with a concussion he suffered in the loss to Washington, before being placed on the Covid-19 list last week. He has since passed through each protocol and been cleared to play this week, and according to both Stephen and Jerry Jones, taking over for Garrett Gilbert who started in Week 9 against Pittsburgh.
  • Dallas also gets another healthy body back in the secondary as Chidobe Awuzie returns from his nine-week stint on injured reserve. Awuzie, who had an interception against Los Angeles in Week 1 prior to his injury, returns to a secondary lineup that has desperately needed an influx of experience and playmaking ability. Unfortunately for Mike Nolan, while he gets Awuzie back, he did lose Trevon Diggs to a foot injury. The rookie had been rounding into form before suffering the injury on a collision with Jaylon Smith during the loss to Pittsburgh. While Nolan would have loved to see both Awuzie and Diggs working together, the thinking and transition on that side of the ball is certainly easier with one of the two in the mix.
  • Over the last two weeks, there have been multiple positives for the Cowboys coaching staff to build off of on the defensive side. Despite the forementioned injuries, a new-found energy and effectiveness has been strung together in back-to-back weeks against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Dallas forced four turnovers against the Eagles in Week 8 and stifled a solid Steelers attack for three quarters in Week 9, something they have not been able to do all season. The rankings and numbers still have the Cowboys towards the bottom of the list defensively, but the film has shown a vast improvement from a historically bad start to the year. Neville Gallimore, Randy Gregory, Antwaun Woods, and Leighton Vander Esch have all played better over the recent weeks and has taken a massive amount of pressure off a banged up secondary.
  • While it may not be a matchup that directly effects the game, Sunday will mark the first matchup for rookie-receivers CeeDee Lamb and Justin Jefferson. Each were taken in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft and have distanced themselves as some of the best young receivers in the league. Lamb got off to one of the best starts for a rookie wide out in franchise history before being directly affected by the recent struggles on offense. Jefferson on the other hand has been tinkering on the border of elite throughout his debut season and continued that on Monday night with eight catches for 135 yards. These two did share the field once during their collegiate tenure as Jefferson's LSU Tigers dominated Lamb's Oklahoma Sooners squad in the College Football Playoff last December, 63-28.

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