Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ron Jenkins/AP/Shutterstock (13488843sg) Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) carries the ball against the Detroit Lions during an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas Lions Cowboys Football, Arlington, United States – 23 Oct 2022
Dallas Cowboys (6-3) at Minnesota Vikings (8-1)
Game time: Sunday, 3:25 p.m. CST
TV/radio: FOX / SiriusXM, 105.3 The Fan, KVMK 107.5 La Grande
What’s at stake: The Cowboys are looking to avoid their first losing streak of the season. A win gets them back on track while keeping pace with a surprisingly good NFC East this season. To get the win, the Cowboys are going to have to figure out how to stop the run, something they haven’t been able to do over their last four games – a stretch of two wins and two losses. A loss in Minneapolis is not the end of the season for the Cowboys, but a 6-4 record and the goodwill the team built after a 4-1 start without quarterback Dak Prescott will have evaporated behind a 2-2 record since his return.
When the Cowboys have the ball: It should be another balanced attack from the Cowboys, who should have Ezekiel Elliott back in the fold at running back. Elliott and Tony Pollard will carry the load in the run game, where they have helped Dallas average 134.6 yards per game this season. Quarterback Dak Prescott has a good opportunity for a bounce-back game against the Vikings, who have the 29th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. The Vikings, who are giving up 381.1 yards per game, have been one of the best teams in getting turnovers, pulling down 10 interceptions and recovering eight fumbles in nine games this season. The Cowboys have been one of the best in not committing turnovers, with just nine this season.
When the Vikings have the ball: The Cowboys will once again see a heavy dose of the run game; this time, it will be Dalvin Cook looking for a big day. Cook, who has rushed for 727 yards this season, is currently eighth in the NFL in rushing. If Cook gets going, that will certainly open the passing game up for quarterback Kirk Cousins. With wide receivers Justin Jefferson, the NFL’s second-leading wideout with 1,060 yards already this season, and Adam Thielen, as well as tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Irv Smith Jr. to throw to, the Cowboys’ pass defense will be tested. Cousins has only been sacked 20 times this season but has thrown eight interceptions this season which is fifth worst in the NFL.
Key Cowboys to watch:
RB Ezekiel Elliott – After missing the last two games with a knee injury, Elliott returns to the lineup on Sunday alongside Tony Pollard to give the Cowboys back the starting half of their 1-2 punch in the run game. Still leading the team in carries with 109, Elliott is responsible for 443 yards this season. Providing a battering ram-type running style, he has four of the Cowboys’ 11 touchdowns on the ground this season. Dallas needs a healthy Elliott to help keep a good Vikings run defense off balance.
CB C.J. Goodwin – You don’t hear a lot about Goodwin, but he is the most important player the Cowboys have on special teams – excluding the kicker and punter. As a gunner, Goodwin is counted on to be one of the first players down the field on a kickoff or punt. He has three tackles on special teams this season, good for second on the team, while also forcing a fumble. Listed as a cornerback, Goodwin has played 168 snaps this season, all coming on special teams.
QB Dak Prescott – The face of the franchise has had an up-and-down showing during his four games this season. At just 2-2 as a starter, Prescott will need to have one of his ‘up’ games for Dallas to be successful on Sunday. While completing just over 63% of his passes this season, Prescott has thrown for six touchdowns and four interceptions. What the Cowboys will need more of is the athletic Prescott, who is not afraid to run when the time is right. So far this season, he has rushed just 14 times for 51 yards, and that includes a 25-yard run in the win over Chicago.
S Malik Hooker – If not for an injury that kept him off the field in Week 8, the Cowboys’ safety is one of the more durable players on the defense. Hooker, who is one of the defense’s vocal leaders, has been in on 453 of 534 snaps in the eight games he has played in. More of a run-first safety, Hooker is fifth on the team in tackles with 40 (28 solo and 12 assisted) and has one interception.
The bottom line: To improve to 7-3, the Cowboys will have to stop Dalvin Cook and the Vikings’ running game when on defense. Quarterback Dak Prescott is going to have to stay away from the turnovers that plagued him last week, make the right reads and throw accurate passes when Dallas is on offense. Accomplish that, and the flight home Sunday night will be all smiles.