(CBS Minnesota) — The resurgent Dallas Cowboys will have their hands full against the Minnesota Vikings, who feature Dalvin Cook, the NFL’s leading rusher (in terms of total rushing yards), and one of its best defenses. Cook, who has gained 894 yards so far, while averaging 5.1 yards per carry, is well on his way to his first 1000-yard season, barring injury. With 33 catches, he seems likely to surpass his career high of 40 in a season as well.
Kirk Cousins, who’s been playing better of late, will have a role in that. Cousins not expected to carry all (or even most) of the weight in this run-first offense. But there was a time earlier in the season when he didn’t seem to be doing his part. Teammates, notably wide receiver Adam Theilen, called him out for it. He’s been better after that Week 4 loss to the Chicago Bears, logging three 300-plus-passing-yard games.
Theilen probably won’t benefit from any increased production this week (if there is any, given Cousins’ penchant for shrinking from the spotlight). The Vikings receiver’s injured hamstring looks likely to sideline him.
His absence would further Dallas’s edge, which currently sits at three points, according to oddsmakers. (No reports yet of a black cat at AT&T Stadium, which would further swing things in the ‘Boys’ favor.) With the return of their high-powered offense and a defense that’s proved capable of shutting down stud running backs, the Cowboys could continue to roll. According to Otis Livingston, sports anchor at CBS New York, “I’m going with the Cowboys in this one.”
A recent three-game skid raised questions about these Cowboys. Were they a mediocre team in a sub-par NFC East? Could they reasonably be considered a playoff contender, setting aside the fact that one of those four teams has to win the division?
Dropping a close one to the New Orleans Saints was acceptable, if disappointing. Trailing the Green Bay Packers by 21 points after three quarters, only to make the game seem competitive in the final score, inspired a few doubts. Handing the New York Jets their first and only win was not okay.
That Week 6 loss seems to have been a turning point for the Cowboys. The team has since reeled off two impressive wins over division foes, scoring 37 points in consecutive weeks over the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. Dak Prescott has tossed four touchdown passes in two weeks. Ezekiel Elliott has consecutive 100-yard games, in which he’s averaged at least five yards per carry. The offense, as a whole, leads the NFL, putting up an astounding 436.8 yards per game, as one of only two teams to average north of 400 yards.
The defense has stepped up its game as well, holding Carson Wentz to under 191 yards passing, limiting Saquon Barkely to just 28 yard on 14 carries and piling up eight sacks in two games. In Livingston’s words, “I think the Dallas defense is that good.” It’s hard to imagine that this is the same unit that let the Jets’ Sam Darnold throw for 338 yards and two touchdowns a few weeks ago.
Livingston agrees. “I think they’ve shaken off their malaise after that terrible loss to the Jets (their only win of the season). I just think they’ve got it going now. Dak Prescott looks really good in the pocket. Zeke is running the football. Dak is using his weapons… Amari Cooper down the field, Jason Witten. And I was really impressed with that defense.”
The Vikings will probably need a win to keep pace with the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. The Packers, coming off an ugly loss to the mediocre Los Angeles Chargers, host the Carolina Panthers Sunday and are favored by 5.5 points. Minnesota is a three-point underdog to Dallas.
The Vikings play the Cowboys Sunday @ 7:20 CT.