FRISCO, Texas – Here are the two matchups I'll be watching most closely when the Cowboys face the Vikings on Thursday night.
In a lot of ways, this will look similar to the Thanksgiving game against Washington. The Vikings boast a talented, physical corner. They also have a dynamic target tight end, and they undoubtedly saw how well that worked against this defense last week.
Here are the matchups:
Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant vs. Minnesota Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes
This will be the best secondary the Cowboys have faced to this point in the season. When it comes to passing yards allowed per attempt, only the Denver Broncos are ahead of the Vikings. Opponents have managed to only average an incredible 5.6 yards when throwing the ball against this secondary.
Mike Zimmer believes in rotating his cornerbacks and as a unit they make it work. As the Cowboys have used premium picks on the offensive line, the Vikings have done the same with their secondary. Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Harrison Smith were all selected by the Vikings in the first two rounds of the draft, so they have built a strong unit.
Of the cornerbacks in that group, Xavier Rhodes in my opinion is the best. Coming out of Florida State, he was a big Cover Two, press corner that was physical and stout along the line. He plays with outstanding ball reactions and has good hip flexibility with a big time burst. He can really drive on the ball when he sees the route develop. He is extremely confident in his ability when you watch him play, and he has the visual and ball skills to make game changing plays.
Rhodes leads the Vikings with four interceptions and nine passes defensed on the year. He has the size to match up with bigger, talented receivers in this league. He also has the strength to hold his man along the line, not to mention the movement skills to carry his man in the route.
Every pass in his direction will be contested. Dak Prescott will need to be totally committed in attacking him. Late reads and less-than-perfect passes will result in turnovers.
Dallas Cowboys S Byron Jones vs. Minnesota Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph
Back-to-back weeks of Byron Jones having to deal with a tight end that plays like a receiver. Last week it was Jordan Reed and this week it's Kyle Rudolph.
Like Reed, Rudolph is used all over the formation. He will play inline, detached and even out wide like a receiver. He is a natural hands catcher who will reach and extend for the ball. Because of this, he can be used as a mismatch player. He's a very good athlete for his size -- not clumsy at all. He is a fluid-moving player in his patterns. Plays with body control.
Something Jones will have to watch is that Rudolph can get open horizontally as well as vertically. He is a high-point catcher. He has excellent concentration and reactions in space, and he can snatch the ball above the crowd. He will fight for the ball in traffic and make the contested catch. He also shows the ability to run routes at all levels of the field.
I thought he was a better blocker at Notre Dame. He was better inline, whereas he just gets in the way now. He's not the type to hammer anyone off the ball. I thought he played with more power and snap back then. He worked hard to finish and stay on his feet.
Rudolph will challenge Jones to match his size and ability to fight for the ball. He has had three game this season where he received double-digit targets (Carolina, Philadelphia and Detroit). He is on a two-game streak without a touchdown – so Jones will need to be ready when the Vikings get down in the red zone.
Given the success the Redskins had with Jordan Reed last week, the Vikings will likely be trying to work to see if they can accomplish similar success.