The Minnesota Vikings flip the script on the Dallas Cowboys
ARLINGTON, Texas_The script was all too familiar to the Dallas Cowboys.
Run the ball, control the clock, wear down the defense, win games.
It’s a script that won the Cowboys Super Bowls and Emmitt Smith rushing titles in the 1990s. More recently, it’s a script that’s won the Cowboys NFC East crowns and Ezekiel Elliott rushing titles this decade.
Except that the Minnesota Vikings flipped the script on the Cowboys Sunday night.
Dalvin Cook was the best running back on the field, not Elliott. His Vikings steamrolled the Cowboys on the ground and, in so doing, controlled the clock and tempo in a 28-24 victory over Dallas. That commitment to the run has entrenched the Vikings as a Super Bowl contender with a 7-3 record.
Minnesota never wavered in that commitment against the NFC East-leading Cowboys despite a so-so first half during which the Vikings rushed the ball a dozen times for only 43 yards. But defenses tire of tackling runners – and historically those 4-5 yard runs by run-first teams in the first half become 7-8 yard runs by the third quarter and 10-12 yard runs by the fourth quarter.
And that’s what happened as the Vikings gashed the Cowboys after the intermission. The Vikings ran the ball 24 times for 110 yards in the second half, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Cook and his backup Alexander Mattison shredded the NFL’s 10th-ranked run defense with gallops of 23, 16, 14, 13 and 12 yards.
The Cowboys entered the game allowing an average of 96.9 rushing yards per game. The Vikings slapped 154 on them. In the game-winning touchdown drive at the close of the third quarter, the Vikings ran the ball on 10 consecutive plays for 61 yards with Cook capping the possession on a fourth-and-one from the Dallas 1 with a sweep of right end for the score.
Cook sensed the Vikings were breaking the defensive will of the Cowboys with that commitment to the run.
“Did you see our guys get up slow?” Cook said. “But (Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus) Lawrence, 99 (nose tackle Antwaun Woods) and 55 (inside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch) ... their guys were getting up slow. When you see that as a running back, it makes you run a little harder.”
Cook, the NFL’s leading rusher, finished the game with 97 yards on 26 carriers. He briefly had his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season…but lost it on his final carry of the night when he lost four yards on a sweep in the closing seconds as the Vikings were burning clock. In addition to those five 100-yard games, Cook now has a 98- and 97-yard effort this season.
Mattison chipped in 52 yards on eight carries as the Vikings controlled the clock for 33 minutes, 27 seconds in upsetting the Cowboys.
Elliott brought a streak of three 100-yard rushing games into Sunday night. But the Vikings held him to 47 yards on 20 carries with a long run of only six yards. And the Vikings stuffed Elliott without their best inside run defender, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who was a game-day inactive because of a knee injury.
The Cowboys were at the doorstep of victory with 93 seconds remaining. They found themselves in a second-and-two at the Minnesota 11. But the Vikings stuffed Elliott on back-to-back runs – holding him to no gain off left guard on second down and throwing him for a three-yard loss on a sweep of left end on third down. That left the Cowboys in a fourth-and-five -- and an sideline pass from Dak Prescott to Elliott was batted away by linebacker Eric Kendricks to seal the victory.
The Vikings could run the ball when they wanted to and needed to. The Cowboys couldn’t. And that was the difference in the game.