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Big Picture: Cowboys Seek First Win in Minnesota Since Last Super Bowl Team


Just like this week's opponents, the Cowboys also had a hot start to the season. But they just haven't let off the gas, winning a franchise-record 10 straight games to gain a two-game lead on all NFC opponents in the playoff picture.

Even though the calendar hasn't yet turned to December, the Cowboys are already getting close to clinching a playoff spot if they can land a victory this week in Minnesota, coupled with some other specific occurrences needed from other games.

But that's a bit premature for the Cowboys, whose head coach Jason Garrett continues to stay in the moment, focused one day at a time.

The rookie duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott are taking the league by storm. Zeke continues to lead the NFL in rushing at 1,199 yards – 156 yards ahead of No. 2 ranked DeMarco Murray. Elliott, who has already shattered Tony Dorsett's single-season franchise-record of 1,007 yards, is on pace to rush for 1,744 yards, which would be the third-most by any player in Cowboys history. Eric Dickerson has the NFL rookie record after posting 1,808 yards in 1983.

Prescott seems to break his own rookie records each week, but he's currently ranking at the top of the NFL leaders in passing. His 108.6 quarterback rating sits behind only Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.

One of Prescott's top targets lately has been Dez Bryant, who had just 16 catches in his first five games of the season with two touchdowns. In the last three, Bryant has 18 catches and three scores.

Defensively, the Cowboys have allowed some yards in the secondary in the last three games, getting torched by both Pittsburgh and Washington. The injuries to Barry Church and Morris Claiborne, coupled with Orlando Scandrick's nagging hamstring issues, have hurt the Cowboys in defensing the pass. But Church is expected to get back this week, which is good timing considering J.J. Wilcox probably won't play with a deep thigh bruise.

This, of course, will be the Cowboys' first-trip to the Vikings' new U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened this year. Overall, Dallas hasn't won a regular-season game in Minnesota since the 1995 season, when they needed overtime to beat the Vikings 23-17 in the Metrodome.



On Oct. 9, the Vikings had a convincing victory over the Texans, 31-13, to not only improve to 5-0 with the best record in the NFC, but they also headed into their bye week looking like the team to beat in this conference.

Since then, Minnesota has lost five of six games, including defeats to three teams the Cowboys have beaten a total of four times.

Obviously, the tide has shifted in the wrong direction for the Vikings, who are coached by former Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Minnesota is one of the better defensive teams in the NFL, but lately the offense has struggled. That's to be expected after losing Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater to season-ending injuries.

Sam Bradford, who was acquired via trade from the Eagles early in the season, started out rather hot but his production has faded here in recent weeks.

The Vikings rank 24th in the NFL in scoring, averaging just 19.8 points per game. However, they rank second in defensive scoring, yielding just 17.5 points per game.

Clearly, something has to give with the Cowboys coming to town, ranked third in the league in scoring, averaging 28.7 points per game.

For the most part, the problems for the Vikings haven't really stemmed from Bradford, who is the NFL's 10th-rated passer with a 98.3 quarterback rating. Bradford has 12 touchdown passes to just three interceptions.

To no surprise, the Vikings have had some troubles replacing the future Hall-of-Famer Peterson. Jerick McKinnon leads Minnesota with 316 rushing yards – good for 41st in the NFL – and he has just one rushing touchdown.

The best receiving threat for the Vikings has been Stefon Diggs, who currently ranks third in the league with 67 catches, despite not playing in last Thursday's game with the Lions. Diggs has been limited this week as well with a knee injury and his status for this week's game is up in the air.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph needs one more touchdown catch to tie the franchise record for TD receptions by a tight end at 28. The Cowboys gave up two scores to Washington's Jordan Reed last week and have had some problems guarding tight ends all year.

On defense, the Vikings have a familiar face in the secondary in veteran cornerback Terence Newman, the Cowboys' No. 5 overall pick in the 2003 draft, which was the same year the team acquired both Jason Witten and Tony Romo.

But Minnesota's best cornerback is Xavier Rhodes, whose four interceptions rank near the top of the league. He also had a 100-yard return for a touchdown earlier this year.

Perhaps the team's most dangerous weapon is kick return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson, who has already tied the Vikings franchise record with five career kickoff returns in just four years in the NFL. To compare, the Cowboys have no kick returns for a touchdown in the last eight seasons and have to go back 22 years to get five kickoff returns for a score.

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