Game: Thursday Night 11/30/16 7:25pm
Location: US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN
The Cowboys can clinch a playoff spot this weekend with a win and either a Tampa Bay or Washington loss. It all starts Thursday night in Minnesota at Sun Devil Stadium, a place where the Cowboys haven’t won a regular season game since their Super Bowl XXX run in 1995.
The Cowboys offense has yet to be hindered this season, even after taking on the league’s best. They will have to do that again this week as the Vikings defense has remained solid. Their secondary, led by former Cowboy Terrence Newman, is comprised of four 1st/2nd round draft picks and is currently ranked 4th in the league in passing yards per game. Xavier Rhodes is excelling in his 3rd year alongside this year’s second rounder Mackensie Alexander. This young group of playmakers also has the 3rd most interceptions in the league with 12. It’s safe to say the Dallas passing attack is meeting its biggest challenge to date. The Cowboys are ranked 4th in the league with 407.6 yards per game and 3rd in points per game with 28.7, whereas the Vikings are only allowing 307 ypg and 17.5 ppg. Strength vs Strength. Who’s stronger? So where can the Cowboys make their biggest impact? The running game – big surprise, I know. The Vikings are 14th in rush yards allowed per game (100.2) but allowed 153 rushing yards to Bears RB Jordan Howard back at the end of October. If the Cowboys can avoid allowing this secondary to make them one dimensional, Ezekiel Elliott should be able to move the ball well enough to secure the team’s 11th win in a row.
The Vikings offense, on the other hand, is not so well put together. Sam Bradford is throwing for 7 yards per attempt in an offense that is ranked dead last in yards per game and 24th in points per game. Bradford isn’t throwing too many interceptions (3 on the year) but that’s probably due to the fact he’s been sacked 26 times, tied for 12th most in the league. Bradford is not the QB that will burn you with his allusiveness, so getting to him and forcing him to go down is key. He is an accurate passer but will dink and dunk his way down the field instead of taking chances with the long ball. The Cowboys weakness has been it’s secondary with numerous injuries to key starters. This week, Barry Church is coming back with his cast bubble wrapped, but JJ Wilcox is set to be out with a thigh contusion. Morris Claiborne is still out with no set timetable for return, other than Jerry’s “end of season” estimation. The Vikings running game is flat out abysmal, embarrassing or whatever other term you can assign. They are averaging 2.8 yards per carry, which is dead last in the league by .6. The Cowboys run defense has been solid this season, allowing only 81.8 yards per game (3rd in the league).
This is a winnable game. Strength vs strength, weakness vs weakness. Who is stronger? Can Dak continue to protect the ball and find the open man? Will Zeke break 100 yards for the first time since November 13th? We shall see on Thursday night.
Keys to the Game:
- Protect the ball. The Vikings secondary can take the ball. The Cowboys have done well not to allow that. They will face perhaps their biggest test this week.
- Run the ball. The whole in the Vikings defense is their front 7. Exploit their weakness and take what their strength gives you in the pass game. Don’t get pretty, just play your game
- Get pressure on Sam Bradford and force him to throw the ball. The Vikings can’t run the ball, so shut down Bradford and their offense won’t be able to score.