A much-needed bye week for the Dallas Cowboys allowed the team to not only regroup, but to reexamine where the team stood heading into the final stretch of the 2020 campaign.
Heading into Sunday’s matchup against the Minnesota Vikings, the Cowboys sat at 2-7 and were in desperate need of a win in order to keep pace in the “race” for supremacy atop the NFC East.
The end result saw the Cowboys keep up, as they utilized a late fourth quarter drive to upend the Vikings, 31-28, and pick up their first road win of the season. Here is a breakdown of the victory.
Andy Dalton’s return under center brought relatively fruitful results for a points-craving Dallas offensive unit. The Cowboys’ 31 points scored were the most in a Vikings’ matchup since Nov. 26, 1998 (where they lost to Minnesota, 46-36) and the most in a victory since the 1996 NFC Wild Card Game (40-15).
Although Dallas was outpaced in terms of total yards (430 vs. 376), the overall poise of the offense looked more fluid, confident and patient. These qualities showed itself in the passing, receiving and rushing departments. Dalton, despite throwing an interception on a short slant, went 22-32 with 203 yards and three interceptions. The trio of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup combined for 12 receptions, 144 yards and one touchdown. Tight end Dalton Schultz, meanwhile, provided the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Ezekiel Elliott found the seam with more regularity and pounded away for 103 yards. The performance was his first 100-yard rushing game of the season and his first since Dec. 29, 2019 (122 yards against Washington).
Although quarterback Dak Prescott was not calling the shots, Dallas looked more formidable than in previous games. Is Dalton and his core finally meshing with head coach Mike McCarthy? Was the performance a mere flash in the frying pan? Consistency will be key for Dallas moving forward.
The defensive production from Dallas, at times, maintained its “bend not break” philosophy to keep Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins at bay. On the other hand, the defense allowed running back Dalvin Cook to rush for 115 yards and could not adequately cover Minnesota’s receiving duo in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. The duo combined for 209 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Even still, Dallas was able to pick up a pair of pivotal forced fumbles and were able to capitalize on them during their corresponding drives.
Nevertheless, Dallas was able to hold on just enough. Should the team legitimately have playoff aspirations, maintaining tight coverage and eliminating space in the flats will be key as offensive screens hurt Dallas for the entirety of the game. Aggression can be seen from the defense. Now, it needs to be harnessed more to close off the gaps in the field.
Although kicker Greg Zuerlein’s first extra point attempt of the day was blocked, the 32-year-old followed it up by converting two extra point attempts and making a 19-yard field goal. Although Zuerlein was not the main performer on offense, he did what was needed. Dallas will take it.
The Cowboys have a quick turnaround this week, as the team will face off against the Washington Football Team on Thanksgiving Day at 4:30 p.m. EST.