The Minnesota Vikings must have made a number of analysts feel smug after their 40-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. There is something to the idea that the Vikings finally revealed themselves in their loss to the Cowboys, though that’s not the entire story.
The Minnesota Vikings Were Always Analytic Underdogs
Minnesota entered their home contest as one-point underdogs despite having a much better record than Dallas and a big win behind them. While the bettors were correct to favor the Cowboys, they may have overestimated the chances of a close game as the underlying numbers worked out in Dallas’ favor in a big way.
The Cowboys entered the game ranked fourth in DVOA and took the team ranked 17th in DVOA to the woodshed, assaulting Cousins to the tune of seven sacks, 13 hits, and a pressure rate of 53 percent.
In drive success rate, a measurement that looks at how often teams convert or prevent new first downs, the Cowboys ranked ninth while the Vikings ranked 12th. That measure doesn’t even account for Prescott’s return, which improved the Cowboys’ ability to create new first downs.
They outranked the Vikings in net yards per play, net points per drive, and net expected points per play – even more so with their starting quarterback in the lineup.
Dallas Cowboys Pass Rush Defined the Game
The defensive line-offensive line matchup was the pivot point for the game, especially after left tackle Christian Darrisaw suffered a second concussion in as many weeks.
He wasn’t doing an excellent job before the injury, but backup Blake Brandel was not equipped to deal with the relentless charge of Micah Parsons, Demarcus Lawrence, Dante Fowler, and Dorance Armstrong Jr. The four of them finished with six sacks, nine quarterback hits, and five hurries for a total of 20 pressures – and not all of them came against Brandel.
The edge rushers were willing to attack anyone anywhere, pressuring the pocket against Brian O’Neill or any of the interior linemen not equipped to deal with their quickness.
The Vikings were aware of these matchup-specific problems and wanted to commit to a running game that would relieve Cousins of the upfront pressure – a matchup that Dallas themselves would prefer to avoid – but they couldn’t go back to the well down multiple scores into the second half.
Dalvin Cook finished with just 11 carries. Those carries went for 72 yards – a good day – but there was no giant play to help put the Vikings on the scoreboard. Instead, there were some chunk gains that improved the average but nothing meaningful enough to avoid the cavalcade of punt after punt.
The Vikings had to move away from the run game earlier than they expected just because of the massive hole they found themselves in early on.
Kirk Cousins Wasn’t the Problem
Surprisingly, on a day where the Vikings only scored three points on 10 possessions, there wasn’t much in the way of problems from Cousins. Instead, harassment in the pocket, solid coverage from Dallas, and drop issues from newly acquired tight end T.J. Hockenson did more to hurt the Vikings’ offense than the quarterback’s level of play did.
It’s also a good example of what separates Cousins, a good quarterback, from elite quarterbacks that might at least manufacture a bit more production out of similar circumstances – even if it’s hard to imagine any quarterback creating a win in Cousins’ shoes.
The Minnesota Vikings Revealed Who They Were
This loss deals a blow to the magical armor the Vikings had built around themselves when it came to close games and their “true” quality. But just like some individual results during the season never told us that the Vikings were good, this individual loss doesn’t tell us that the Vikings are a bad team.
Instead, teams that aren’t consistent or high-quality will find themselves at the receiving end of blowout losses against good teams. And how teams perform in multi-score games tells us more about their future performance than how they perform in one-score games. And the Vikings are 1-2 in games decided by two or more scores.
The loss puts into sharp focus what has made analysts wary of the team all season – inconsistent offensive production, a defense that gave up yards and points outside of “clutch” moments, and an offensive line waiting to be exploited by a savvy pass rush.
The Vikings aren’t as bad as a 37-point loss might imply, but they might be who many thought they were – the recipient of lucky plays at lucky moments that couldn’t play the consistent kind of football needed to pull out wins week after week.
The Dallas Cowboys Are Establishing Themselves in the NFC Race
As for the Cowboys, a win like this reinvigorates the talk that they might be among the class of the NFC. After a bad loss to a struggling Packers team, it might have been fair to dismiss the Cowboys – who have one of the three best defenses in the NFL – as part of the hodgepodge of “pretty good” teams that might make some noise in the playoffs.
But the promise of the Cowboys was hard to see when Dak Prescott was injured. Instead, they have the ability to be a top-ten offense with a top-three defense, and that might be enough to run roughshod over most of the NFC.
We saw that against the Vikings, though they likely won’t be this dominant against a contending team again – the Cowboys matched up well against the Vikings at the same time Minnesota happened to be having a bad day.
Still, one could argue that Dallas hasn’t even unlocked their ceiling, as Prescott and CeeDee Lamb could connect for more. The 45 yards that Lamb earned on five targets was helpful, but it was Tony Pollard who led the way, with 109 receiving yards and 80 rushing yards.
Pollard earned two touchdowns through the air while Ezekiel Elliott finished off drives with two touchdowns on the ground. The 15-15 carry split might be exactly what Dallas is looking for going forward, as it preserves Pollard’s stamina and allows Elliott to be a battering ram.
No one is crowning the Cowboys as the best team in football – especially after what happened in Green Bay – nor is anyone shoveling dirt on the Vikings’ grave. But this game operated as a clear reset on what these teams truly are and what we might see by the time the playoffs roll around.