Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings: Defensive Turnaround

Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott has had a superb rookie season and looks to be in full effect on Thursday night. Photo Courtesy: Brook Ward
Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott has had a superb rookie season and looks to be in full effect on Thursday night against the Vikings. Photo Courtesy: Brook Ward
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By Zach Walker

Game Info
Dallas Cowboys vs Minnesota Vikings
Thursday – December 1 – 7:25 pm
U.S. Bank Stadium – Minneapolis – Minnesota

Records Before the Game
Dallas Cowboys (10-1, 5-0 Away)
Minnesota Vikings (6-5, 4-1 Home)

Who do the Cowboys need to shut down?
WR Stefon Diggs – He missed the Thanksgiving match-up versus the Lions, just so he’d be fresh for this game against the Cowboys. So, that’s not true, in reason… but is factual. Stefon Diggs is the Vikings offense this year. He has five games with seven or more catches, and in two of those games, he had over 150 yards receiving. The Cowboys’ don’t have much to fear from the running game, even then, the Cowboys have been good at bottling the running game of opponents. The opposing receivers of Cowboys have been getting loose since Morris Claiborne has left the lineup. Anthony Brown has played well for the Cowboys, and he’ll likely draw against Diggs more than a few times in the game, and as long as he doesn’t anticipate a double-move, he should be fine, but Diggs is a handful.

Who on the Cowboys, needs to step up?
Safety Jeff Heath – Barry Church is on his way back into the lineup, but it could be an easing in process. JJ Wilcox got injured on Thanksgiving, and when this had been posted, he hasn’t practiced before this game. So, Jeff Heath is likely going to be thrust into a prominent role. Pros: he’s a solid, sure tackler. Cons: not the best in coverage. I don’t know who he’ll be matched up with in coverage, if he draws a man coverage, perhaps Rhett Ellison, and that could get interesting. I think Jeff Heath can really come in clutch for this Thursday night matchup.

Which group will give the Cowboys trouble?
The Vikings’ linebackers – Of the three really good units the Vikings have on defense, I believe their best will keep them around in the game. Their three man starting linebacking corps is a great balance of veteran and knowledge and youth and speed. Chad Greenway on the weak side is their version of Sean Lee; Eric Kendricks, the younger brother of Eagles’ linebacker Mychal, is a full-field defender. Then there’s the Vikings’ crown jewel, Anthony Barr. He’s having a down year from a quarterback sack perspective, but as a linebacker doing normal linebacker stuff, he’s among the best and most talented. If let off the chain, Barr has game breaking ability, on par with Von Miller or Khalil Mack. These linebackers may not have experienced the movement skills and ability to dominate at the second and third levels like the Cowboys’ offensive line can do.

Which group will give the Vikings trouble?
The Cowboys’ defensive line – I don’t know if this is definitive “weak link” in the Cowboys team, it’s definitely not their strongest asset. When the Cowboys rush base four, the opposing quarterback isn’t the most nervous back in the pocket. However, given the amount of injuries along the Vikings’ offensive line, the pass rush might be feasting like it’s a Thursday ago. The Vikings have three tackles on IR, and on Thanksgiving, center Joe Berger and tackle Jeremiah Sirles left the game without returning. If they can’t go, it’ll be yet another dip into a draining well. Sam Bradford isn’t mobile, so more losses along the offensive line must be very concerning for him. If the Cowboys’ defensive line play to their potential, they could perhaps force a turnover or two.

What will it take for the Cowboys to win?
Attack the defense with the running game, then take the shots in the air when Harrison Smith has to respect the run. I don’t think the Vikings offense can manage to hold, the even hampered, Cowboys defensive line at bay. I think Maliek Collins is up for a big game.

Prediction: Dallas 31 – Minnesota 17