Vikings 28, Cowboys 24: Three Takeaways From a Huge Road Victory
That was fun, wasn't it?
In one of the most thrilling, intense games of the 2019 NFL season, the Vikings won a game they seemed destined to lose. Kirk Cousins and company beat a good team. On the road. In primetime. Yep, that really happened.
Eric Kendricks came up with a clutch pass breakup on a late fourth down, Jayron Kearse caught the Cowboys' hail mary attempt on the game's final play, and the Vikings escaped with a 28-24 win over the Cowboys in front of a national audience.
The Vikings are now 7-3 heading into a home game against the Broncos before their bye week, and have a 1.5-game lead for the final NFC playoff spot after the Rams and Panthers lost on Sunday. They stay one game back of the Packers in the NFC North.
Here are three takeaways from a crazy game.
1. Dalvin Cook out-duels Ezekiel Elliott in his own building
Coming into this game, Dalvin Cook made it no secret that he wanted to out-rush Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott. Even though they would never be on the field at the same time, Cook took their individual matchup personally. He wanted to prove once more that he belongs in the conversation as the best running back in the NFL, and that he deserves Elliott-type money on his next contract.
Cook lived up to his word, and then some. He ran for 97 yards on 26 carries and added 86 receiving yards on seven catches. In total, that's 183 yards from scrimmage on 33 touches. Elliott's numbers? 22 touches for 63 total yards.
In front of a national stage, Cook did what he's been doing all season: show that he is the complete package as a running back. The Vikings schemed Cook open on screens early and often, and he's one of the best players in the NFL in open space thanks to his combination of speed, power, and agility.
The Cowboys seemed to make some adjustments to prevent big gains to Cook in the screen game, so he did it the more conventional way in the second half. He had 73 of his 100 rushing yards after halftime, including the go-ahead touchdown on a fourth down toss play. On that touchdown drive, the Vikings ran the ball ten straight times.
Credit must go to the offensive line and fullback CJ Ham, who did an outstanding job in run-blocking (Alexander Mattison had 52 yards on eight carries), but this was another brilliant game from Cook. He said earlier this week that he thinks running backs are valuable, and he showed why he'll receive a lot of money soon on Sunday night.
Meanwhile, the Vikings defense did a great job of completely shutting down Elliott, holding him to 2.4 yards per carry and a long run of six yards on the night. Unfortunately, that was the only area in which the defense played well...
2. The secondary is a major concern right now
If Kendricks hadn't made a clutch breakup on the Cowboys' final real drive and the Vikings had lost, this would be the story of the game: Dak Prescott absolutely roasted Mike Zimmer's secondary all night long.
Prescott threw for 397 yards and three touchdowns, finding three different receivers for over 75 receiving yards and a touchdown catch. Amari Cooper led the way with 11 catches for 147 yards, former Packer Randall Cobb had six catches for 106, and Michael Gallup chipped in four for 76. It didn't really matter which of the three it was, someone was always open.
With Trae Waynes inactive, Mike Hughes became the Vikings' second outside corner. To put it lightly, he had a rough evening. Hughes had no shot against Cooper, getting burned repeatedly for chunk plays through the air. He also dropped a potential pick-six. To be fair to Hughes, no one else was much better. Xavier Rhodes' mediocre season continued, and neither Harrison Smith nor Anthony Harris were able to make many plays to slow down Prescott. Mackensie Alexander had a couple nice breakups, but he wasn't perfect either.
All in all, it was an incredibly poor effort from the secondary. Prescott moved the ball with ease against the Vikings' soft coverage, and that's absolutely a concern with games against Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers still on the schedule. The defensive backs owe Kendricks a steak dinner for bailing them out at the end.
3. Who cares if he didn't do a ton? This was a signature win for Kirk Cousins
Let me repeat this one more time: Kirk Cousins beat a good team on the road in primetime. Did Cousins have a huge statistical game? No. Was he perfect? No. He wasn't even particularly great, but who cares. He did enough to help the team win the game. If he's going to get the lion's share of blame in losses, he needs to get a lot of credit for this win.
Cousins' final line: 23 of 32 (72 percent) for 220 yards with two touchdowns, a two-point conversion, and no turnovers. The 220 yards are exactly as many as he had last Sunday against the Chiefs, but his completion percentage was 22 points better this time around.
Early on, Cousins benefited from Cook's brilliance after the catch. He also got some help from Stefon Diggs on an under-thrown ball that went for a 27-yard gain. Oh, and Kyle Rudolph made a pretty good catch on his first of two touchdown receptions.
Still, Cousins had to give those guys a chance to make those plays. He also delivered a few great throws, including Rudolph's second touchdown and later two-point conversion, and converted six third downs through the air. These are the type of games the Vikings are paying Cousins to win, and he finally got it done.
Take some deep breaths, Vikings fans. There are more games like this one in the team's future.