FRISCO, Texas – The predominant focus on this Sunday's Cowboys-Vikings game quite naturally has become if the Cowboys' run defense, roasted by the Packers this past Sunday for 207 yards rushing, can slow down the Vikings and Dalvin Cook.
After all, that Cowboys defense once in search of a nickname after their early-season performances, has now given up 447 yards rushing in the past two games, 240 of those to the Bears, and have yielded at least 117 yards rushing in seven of their nine games. Plus, in the three losses, the Cowboys have given up 495 yards rushing.
Sense an issue?
But there is another problem on the near horizon the Vikings pose. And can't get this out of my head, the LSU P.A. guy at Tiger Stadium shouting out, "TOUCHdownnnn JUSTinnnn JEFFERsonnnn,"
That's right, how do the Cowboys contain one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, Jefferson, this week's NFC Offensive Player of the Week, reminding one and all just how good he is this past Sunday. And doing so against the supposedly stout Buffalo defense, catching 10 balls for 193 yards, one touchdown and one phenomenal 46-yard, one-handed snatch preventing an interception on top of it that you must see to believe.
"Very, very impressed with him," says Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy.
"He gets open against everybody," says Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse.
"He can do it all," says Cowboys slot corner Jourdan Lewis, in the locker on a kneel-down scooter following his surgery three weeks ago to repair his Lisfranc fracture. "A very vicious competitor."
Jefferson, with his "Doing-The Griddy" TD celebration, ranks fourth in the NFL with 69 catches, second with 1,060 yards and ranks second in average per catch among the top 10 with at least 50 receptions at 15.4.
Not an impossible mission for Trevon Diggs, last year's NFL interception leader with 11. In fact, in the Cowboys' 20-16 victory over the Vikings last season, Jefferson was held to just two catches for 21 yards, and just one for three yards matched up with Diggs.
Well, here they go again, back to their SEC days with Jefferson at LSU and Diggs at Alabama. And if what took place in the Cowboys' 31-28 overtime loss to Green Bay when Diggs was matched up eventually with Packers assumed top receiver Allen Lazard, he likely will draw Jefferson again.
And this becomes even more complicated for the Cowboys if the Cowboys other cornerback, Anthony Brown, does not emerge from concussion protocol in time for the game. Brown suffered a concussion on Aaron Rodger's 58-yard touchdown pass to Christian Watson on Sunday in Green Bay. Brown still is in concussion protocol, listed as limited in Wednesday's mere walk-through practice, but says he hopes to emerge on Friday and be ready to play against the Vikings.
Further compromising the Cowboys secondary is the loss of Lewis, the team's slot corner, likely out for the season and being replaced by rookie DaRon Bland. And if Brown can't go, second-year corner Kelvin Joseph will be making his third NFL start at left corner. So far this season, Joseph, primarily a special teams player, has only played 55 defensive snaps. And remember, Adam Thielan is a load too.
And as Cowboys owner Jerry jones pointed out, knowing his team has to play back-to-back road games against Green Bay and now Minnesota, each presents a unique problem, "We're jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire."
Both mighty hot.
- · Technicality: Yes, technically the Cowboys did squander that 14-point lead in the fourth quarter that Fox was very proud to point out that the Cowboys had been 195-0 (including playoffs) previous to the 31-28 overtime loss to the Packers. But, well, they only had that 14-point lead for 1 minute, 37 seconds in the fourth quarter. The Packers nearly did half that damage in the final 2:47 of the third quarter, with the final 42 yards covered 1:37 into the fourth, narrowing the lead to 28-21. Just sayin'.
- · P-U: That was Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's take on his defense giving up 31 points and 207 rushing yards to the Packers, saying on Monday before anyone asked a question of the performance and loss, "That one stinks." Quinn was most upset with allowing the Packers to get back into the game, saying, "Losing the lead was as big as anything," sort of echoing his take after the Cowboys' 49-29 win over the Bears, who ran for 240 yards against the Cowboys, yet Quinn maintaining "It was the touchdowns" the Bears scored annoying him most.
- Laughing Matter: This take making the rounds makes me laugh, so many out there seemingly upset with the Cowboys offense and the two interceptions, putting all the blame on Dak Prescott. OK, get the interceptions and we'll dive into them next, but let's not forget the offense did score 28 points. The offense did rack up 421 yards of total offense, second highest to the 442 in the previous game against the Bears. That's 863 in the past two games while generating 70 points in those two games.
- Stab Wounds: Dak has made a history of falling on his sword as all good quarterbacks do, taking blame for interceptions when they know receivers have sold them out. And he did so after the Packers game, talking about "communication" and seeing things differently. Well, upon further review, that first interception in the end zone would have been an easy pitch and catch to CeeDee Lamb had Dalton Schultz ran his route across the goal line to pull Packers safety Rudy Ford away from the line of fire. Instead, Ford jumped the route in front of what should have been a wide-open Lamb when Schultz should have dragged him away.
- Next Stab: And on the second interception, Lamb should know better than to not cross the face of the safety on his break. CeeDee cuts up behind Ford instead of in front for his easy pick, thus giving the impression those two picks were on Dak and leaving Cowboys owner Jerry Jones answering questions if Dak is the right QB for the Cowboys. At least Jones pointed out absolutely he is, going on to say, "Both of those routes are faith routes," meaning the quarterback is counting on his receivers to run a proper route on those timing patterns.
- Something Special: When a team loses, as the Cowboys did to the Packers on national TV, something like this goes unnoticed. Cowboys special teams linebacker Luke Gifford totaled five special teams tackles and one recovered fumbled, an outstanding performance in the scheme of things. Usually if a guy has two special teams tackles in a game that's a really good performance. But five? "He was fantastic, really fantastic," special teams coach John Fassel said. "Probably like nothing I've seen before." Last year C.J. Goodwin led the Cowboys with 10 special teams tackles – for the season. Gifford tied for second with five. Now five in one game? Unheard of really, his previous single-game high being three against the Giants in his 2019 rookie season. Well done.
- Little Sides: Give Fox analyst Greg Olsen credit for quickly explaining where the fault rested with Dak's two interceptions, the former tight end correctly pointing out Schultz's route and a poor one by Lamb … Let's also remember the Cowboys did score 28 points against the Packers, no small achievement since that is the most points the Packers have given up this season, the most touchdowns (four) and by far the most yards (421) in a single game … Coincidence or not, but two of the Cowboys worst games this season came after a bye week against Bays, losses to Tampa Bay and then Green Bay … BTW, six receivers were taken in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Cowboys selecting CeeDee at No. 17 and the Vikings grabbing Jefferson at 22, just after the Eagles took Jalen Reagor, who now is with the Vikings, McCarthy stating, "CeeDee was my favorite of the group."
And let's go this week with Kearse giving us our last word, trying to explain just what has gone wrong the last few weeks with the Cowboys defense, giving up 60 points in the past two games and the 447 yards rushing.
"I don't know what I can tell you. It's just every individual. Something that as an individual that's on the field on that particular play, you lock in on your job, do your job, the same thing you do every week in practice, then it will take care of itself," Kearse says. "I can't really elaborate on how we can get it done as a unit. It's all individuals. If one guy is not in his gap, these backs in this league will find that gap. So you've just got to do your job."
The Cowboys hoping the fix is that simple.