Welcome to Week 8 of the 2021 NFL season. The Dallas Cowboys are coming off a well-timed by week that saw them gain ground on most of their divisional foes while attempting to recover and get healthier on their own.
At the time of this writing, the biggest question surrounding their Week 8 Sunday Night Football showdown with the Minnesota Vikings is the health of quarterback Dak Prescott. With a week off, Prescott’s calf has markedly improved but his status is still in doubt. Likely it will be a game-time decision as to whether or not he plays which clearly factors largely in the outcome of this game.
Can the Cowboys win if backup Cooper Rush is running the show? Absolutely. It will just be monumentally more difficult to do so. Without Prescott, the Cowboys’ four-game streak of scoring 35+ points likely won’t reach five.
The Dallas Cowboys need to unleash their two-headed rushing monster in Week 8
But enough about the Cowboys… for now. Let’s get to know thy enemy a little better as we break down the matchup between Dallas and Minnesota.
Minnesota, also coming off their bye week, is currently sitting at 3-3, three games out of first place in their division. The Vikings are quite similar to the Cowboys in that they rely heavily on their offense to be successful.
Minnesota is sixth in passing yards, eighth in rushing yards, and fifth in total yards. Oddly enough, all that production has not translated into points. While the Cowboys are equally potent in gaining yards, they also lead the league in points per game. Minnesota, meanwhile, 14th overall, scoring nine fewer points per game than Dallas.
The Vikings possess a game-breaking talent at running back in Dalvin Cook as well as two top-tier receivers in Justin Jefferson and Adam Theilen. These three pose a threat to every defense that comes their way.
Jefferson is top ten in both receptions and yards, while Theilen is in the top ten in receiving touchdowns. Cook, while dealing with injuries that have caused him to miss two games, is averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Minnesota is also getting stellar play from their quarterback.
The problem the Vikings are having in 2021 seems to be revolved around their rush defense. Minnesota is currently 26th overall at stopping the run. Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon and Cleveland’s Nick Chubb both gained 100+ yards against the Vikings. Seattle’s Chris Carson totaled 80 yards in just 12 attempts.
Along with their difficulty in stopping the run, it appears that Minnesota also has trouble trusting their kicker. Greg Joseph has already missed four field goals and an extra point so far in 2021. This is crucial to a team that consistently finds itself in close games.
The Vikings have already played in three games decided by three points or less and another that went into overtime. Minnesota is 2-2 in these games which seems to fit well with their overall modus operandi of being just average.
The Vikings’ three losses have come to good teams (Cincinnati, Arizona, and Cleveland) while their three wins have been against bad teams (Seattle, Detroit, and Carolina). They do just enough to be in every game, but not enough to win them. They don’t beat themselves, but they don’t take over games and dominate.
Regardless of who plays quarterback for the Cowboys Sunday night, it would be wise for them to lean on their two-headed rushing monster in this matchup. The duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard should cause Minnesota all kinds of headaches.
Even if it’s Rush instead of Prescott, there are enough weapons on the outside and a strong enough offensive line to give either QB time to dissect an average Vikings secondary. Prior to the start of the season, I predicted that Dallas would lose this game but that was before we all knew the level at which this defense is capable to perform.
All year, I have stuck by my preseason predictions but I’m calling an audible on this one. If Prescott plays, I believe that Dallas will win 34-23. If it’s Rush, this could very well be the Cowboys’ second loss of the year as I think Minnesota would pull out a 23-20 victory.