Minnesota Vikings vs. Cowboys: Optimism vs. Pessimism

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

Thursday Night Football has huge implications for the Minnesota Vikings. In their most pivotal game of the season, the Vikings have to face their toughest opponent by far in the Dallas Cowboys.

This prime time game features huge stakes for both sides. Dallas has an opportunity to be the first team to clinch a playoff birth in 2016. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings have their backs against the wall, needing wins wherever they can get them in order to reach the playoffs.

The pessimistic side

It’s no secret that the Cowboys are favored to win this game. Why wouldn’t they? After all, the Cowboys boast a historic rushing attack supported by the league’s best offensive line while the Vikings defense has struggled against the run. Even if the Vikings focus their efforts on stopping Ezekiel Elliot, that will leave the likes of Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley in one on one coverage.

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If the Minnesota defense somehow manages to stave off the high-powered Dallas offense, they will likely still be able to hold the ball for long periods of time. The Vikings’ offense hasn’t exactly performed reliably on limited possessions over the past six weeks.

Besides all of those factors, last time the Vikings faced a juggernaut in December, they disappointed. In fact, last year in week 13 the Vikings lost 38-7 to the Seahawks. In that scenario, they were 8-3 heading into week 13. This year, at a weak 6-5, it will be quite difficult for the Vikings to steal a playoff spot if they lose again in week 13.

To make matters worse for the Vikings, their already feeble offensive line will likely be missing starting center Joe Berger for the game. This adds yet another lane for defenders to reach Bradford.

The optimistic side

In a way, the Minnesota Vikings have a great match up against the Cowboys. The faux-stingy Dallas defense seldom sees the field. As a result, they play soft coverages designed to keep plays in front of them, waiting for the other team to make a mistake.

If Bradford and his complimentary receivers do anything excellently, it is finding the soft spots in zones. If Dallas doesn’t bring pressure consistently, Bradford should be able to move the ball between the 20s efficiently.

If Minnesota can play to their averages, they will win this game. The Vikings defense only gives up 17 points per game while their offense scores about 20. Dallas gives up 19 points per game, but the problem lies with the fact that the Cowboys score nearly 29 points per game. If the Vikings defense can hold the Cowboys under 20 points, the offense should be able to get the job done.

The loss on Thanksgiving to the Lions revealed two glaring flaws of the Minnesota Vikings. On defense, they played great coverage, but they allowed Matt Stafford too much time with their lack of pressure. On offense, the Vikings didn’t take advantage of Detroit’s poor secondary. They continually threw short passes which allowed the Lions to sit on routes and ultimately clinch the game on an interception. While the short passing game is a necessity for Minnesota’s roster, they later admitted the necessity of stretching the field.

Surely, the Vikings will react to the loss in Detroit with some positive changes. Reports have already emerged of Bradford urging his offensive line to protect him for a more explosive passing attack. Stefon Diggs‘ return to the lineup will certainly help their chances both down the field and in crucial third down situations.

Defensively, the Vikings will likely look to stop Elliot and put pressure on rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. Therefore, Xavier Rhodes will have to continue his all-pro play against Dez Bryant as they will likely be one on one.

At home, the Vikings are 4-1 this season. U.S. Bank Stadium offers a terrific home field advantage. Not only has Bradford played better at home, but the defense has brought much more pressure and physicality at home this season.

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Odds are against the Minnesota Vikings in this game, but with their backs against the wall they may be able to return to their early-season form. If the Vikings do come out on top, they will have proven their ability to defeat the league’s best competition.