FRISCO, Texas – The Cowboys are on their way to Minneapolis for a big Thursday night game against the Vikings.
While kickoff might still be a day away, my scouting process is winding down. I put together my notes about the two biggest aspects of this game. These are the two key components that will determine the outcome of this matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium
Dallas Cowboys Win If:
The Minnesota Vikings are clearly compromised on offense with all the losses of key personnel due to injury. They struggle to run and throw the ball but their biggest struggle is there inability to score points. They are ranked 28th in the league when it comes to touchdown drives and have yet to have a touchdown drive that has taken four plays or less.
As bad as their offense has been, their defense is outstanding – especially their pass defense. They are mid-pack when it comes to defending the run, but where they cause problems for their opponents is when they have to throw the ball. Opposing quarterbacks have a rating of only 74.3 against this defense and that dips to 50.0 when they come on the blitz -- which is best in the league.
The Vikings have scored six times on non-offensive touchdowns this season, and when they have done this they have yet to lose a game. The Cowboys offensively have been outstanding in protecting the ball, and it's rare when Dak Prescott throws an interception or they put the ball on the ground with a fumble.
The Vikings are not built to match the Cowboys score for score and if it turns into one of those games, then they are in trouble. If the Cowboys don't help the Vikings with cheap turnovers or non-offensive touchdowns they should be in good enough shape to get the win.
Minnesota Vikings Win If:
There are very few teams in the league that play third down defense like the Vikings, especially when they face those medium distances of 4-to-6 yards. The Cowboys are one of the best in the league when it comes to converting on third downs. The Vikings have only allowed opponents to convert 32 percent of the time in those medium distances.
What makes the Vikings so difficult to convert on is their personnel. They are good enough across the board to lock opponents down one-on-one without having to commit safety help over the top in order to double receivers. Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Terence Newman and Mackensie Alexander are all quality cover men. Look for Mike Zimmer to leave his corners on an island and attack this Cowboys offensive line with his front.
Zimmer knows he has to make Dak Prescott feel uncomfortable in the pocket, and with his secondary, he has a chance to do just that. The Vikings are mid-pack when it comes to playing run defense. They don't create many negative plays, and opponents have had success averaging four or more yards per carry against them. The Vikings are going to need big games from safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo near the line of scrimmage in order to attempt to slow Ezekiel Elliott down. Both are physical and willing to stick their nose in the action. Smith is a better open field tackler and with as much as Elliott gets in the open he is going to have plenty of opportunities.
For the Vikings to win this game, they are going to make the Cowboys one dimensional on offense and rely on their secondary to make things difficult for Dak Prescott and these Cowboys receivers.