The Dallas Cowboys had a very productive bye week as they saw two out of three teams in the NFC East lose including the Philadelphia Eagles. They will now travel to Minnesota to take on the red-hot Vikings in a must-win game for both teams.
Andy Dalton should be back under center after he missed two games due to a concussion and being on the COVID-19 list. The Cowboys had two weeks to get ready for the Vikings so they should be well-prepared heading into this matchup. Here are three keys to the games for the Dallas Cowboys against the Vikings.
[Related: Bye Week Adjustments for the Dallas Cowboys]
Stack the Box
The Cowboys will not beat the Vikings if they do not stack the box. They will have to stop Dalvin Cook in every way possible which means having guys stacked at the line of scrimmage. Cook has been the most explosive runner throughout the season as he has rushed for 954 yards and 12 touchdowns, both leading the league.
Just last season, the Cowboys faced off against the Vikings on Sunday Night Football where Cook single-handily beat them. He ran for 100 yards and had 186 total scrimmage yards in the game. Being able to contain him is no easy achievement.
As for the Cowboys, they have their hands full. They haven’t been able to contain any running back this season as they rank 31st in the NFL in rush yards against per game (157). In their most recent game, they did hold James Conner to just 22 rush yards in their week 9 matchup.
The key factors in stopping the run are Leighton Vander-Esch and Jaylon Smith. Two incredible linebackers for the Cowboys can be the ultimate factors in stopping Cook. Their speed and explosiveness can help contain him. The Cowboys paid Smith for moments like this to stop offenses from creating those big plays. His 40 time, 4.44, is a tad faster than Cook’s, 4.50. However, the defensive line has to step up as well. Being able to get off those blocks quickly and get Cook in the backfield will go a long way for the Cowboys to come up on top.
Work Tony Pollard In
Tony Pollard has the makings of a solid running back in the national football league. He has the speed, footwork and toughness in him to help the Cowboys in the run and pass game. Additionally, Pollard has been the more efficient back in Dallas so far this season.
With Ezekiel Elliott’s production diminishing with Dak Prescott out, Pollard has been the weapon that no one knew about in Dallas. However, he still plays a minimal role in the Cowboys offense. He only averages 17 snaps per game which is roughly around 23 percent of Dallas’ offensive snaps.
For someone as explosive as Pollard is, he should be incorporated into Dallas’ gameplan more often. He should see at least 30 snaps a game and be featured more in two-back sets with Elliott. The Cowboys will once again be underdogs against the Vikings, so being able to get creative with Elliott and Pollard both in the backfield on a variety of plays can throw off Minnesota’s defense.
Getting Pollard more involved in the gameplan can help Dallas’s chances immensely.
Get the Ball Out Quick
Getting the ball out quickly can help Dallas’s chances of winning. It helps Dallas in many ways if they can successfully do this. For starters, it settles pressure off of the offensive line. This offensive line has been in complete shambles this season dealing with many injuries. In their week 9 matchup with the Steelers, the Cowboys gave up a just two sacks because Garrett Gilbert got rid of the ball quickly.
Although Gilbert will not be the starter in week 11, Dalton needs to get the ball out immediately. It also accommodates receivers like Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, who excel at running after the catch. These short passes worked in week 9. Through the duration of the game, Gilbert threw three short passes to Michael Gallup at the line of scrimmage, who then ran eight plus yards each time.
These short plays work, but it all depends on the wide receivers. With as talented as the Cowboys receivers are, their route running abilities should enable them to get open instantly. Moreover, the Vikings cornerbacks have struggled all season year defending the pass.
The Cowboys pass-catchers should be in for a solid game if Dalton can get them the ball promptly.
Featured Image Courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys