Cowboys at Vikings: Is Jaylon Smith the key to victory?

Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Jaylon Smith (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Jaylon Smith (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports) /

Is Jaylon Smith the key to a Dallas Cowboys’ victory over the Vikings?

The 2-7 Dallas Cowboys will head north this weekend to face the 4-5 Minnesota Vikings on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium. These are two teams heading in drastically different directions.

The Cowboys enter this Week 11 matchup coming off their bye week and are in the midst of a four-game losing streak. Dallas actually hasn’t won a contest since early October. The Vikings, on the other hand, are on a three-game winning streak defeating every team within their division, the NFC North, in the process.

The biggest determining factor in this matchup is believed to be the running game. Specifically, the Vikings’ terrific running back in Dalvin Cook against the Cowboys’ putrid rushing defense.

Cook currently leads the NFL in rushing, posting 954 yards and 12 touchdowns in eight games so far this season. In comparison, Dallas allows an average of 157.0 rushing yards to opposing offenses, the second-highest amount in the NFL.

All of those numbers seem to add up to potentially disastrous results for the Cowboys this Sunday. But this is also a Dallas defense that has been trending upwards, limiting the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers to only 46 total rushing yards in their last game.

Here’s what NFL Media Analyst Bucky Brooks told’s the Cowboys Break podcast on Thursday about who he believes wears the “big sombrero” this week when it comes to stopping the Vikings‘ elite running back.

"“I think the magic number is 125. They have to keep Dalvin Cook under 125 yards … Jaylon Smith is going to have to ball out. If Jaylon Smith doesn’t ball out it’s going to be a problem. If he’s running around and not disciplined in gaps … [Cook] will split the defense and have 200 yards rushing.”"

Linebacker Jaylon Smith has received a ton of criticism this year for his poor play. And that’s despite being one of the league’s leaders in tackles.

Smith’s recorded 89 tackles through nine games, which is currently the fifth-most in the NFL. Unfortunately, Pro Football Focus has the 25-year old’s overall grade for his play this season sitting at a depressing 53.4, by far the lowest of his four-year career.

The problem is Smith’s inability to make key tackles and how often he finds himself at the very heart of bad plays. This caused the MMQB’s Albert Breer to speculate that the Cowboys might opt to part ways with the young linebacker after this season despite him signing a massive five-year, $64 million contract extension just last year.

Trending. Dallas Cowboys playoff path the easiest in NFC East. light

If the Dallas Cowboys are using the rest of this season to gauge whether to keep Jaylon Smith on the roster in 2021, this matchup against Dalvin Cook and the Minnesota Vikings could be the deciding factor. So Smith’s play this Sunday might not only determine the game’s outcome but his future in Dallas as well.