The Vikings Need to Feast on Turnover-Prone Dallas

Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the NFL season is more than halfway over, it has become increasingly clear that the Minnesota Vikings’ 2020 schedule is turning out to be more front-loaded than Debbie Boone’s Greatest Hits LP.

[Editor’s note: Yes, Bo is showing his age again. Debbie Boone? LP?]

If you thought that Monday night game in Chicago was ugly, wait until you get a load of the upcoming slate of opponents. The next three games on the Vikings’ schedule should really light up the lives of Minnesota Vikings fans. All three are at home and come against seriously flawed opponents (the Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, and Jacksonville Jaguars) that are a combined 6-22 this season have lost a combined 17 straight games. It’s not unthinkable that the Vikings could be heading to Tampa Bay in mid-December to take on Tyler Johnson, Antoine Winfield Jr. and the Buccaneers with a 7-5 record and riding a six-game winning streak.

Actually, it would be more unthinkable if they weren’t 7-5 and riding a six-game winning streak at that point.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One game at a time, right?

The Cowboys (2-7) limp into the Twin Cities this weekend mired in a four-game slump in which they have been thoroughly embarrassed… and outscored 110-41. They haven’t won since losing Dak Prescott to that terrifying leg injury against the New York Giants in Week 5. Of course, they’re still battling for the NFC East crown because the division is a joke, but that’s another story.

The only story Vikings fans care about is how they match up with the depleted Cowboys and how they can best avoid screwing up this winning streak. After all, Dallas almost caught the Pittsburgh Steelers napping in Week 9, as they led the still-undefeated Steelers by 10 points entering the fourth quarter. Obviously, Mike Tomlin’s troops awoke in time to score 15 unanswered points and escape with a win. Their fourth-quarter rally was highlighted by an interception that was turned into a field goal to pull them within one point.

That’s what the Cowboys do. They make mistakes that lead to points for the other team. It’s their forte.

The Dallas offense has been lost without Dak, and the defense has been miserable all season. But what stands out most about this Cowboys team is their penchant for turning the ball over and allowing opponents to capitalize with points off those turnovers. This specialty leverages their frailties on both sides of the ball – showcasing both their offensive and defensive ineptitude.

How bad has it been?

The Cowboys have 20 giveaways (eight interceptions and a league-worst 12 fumbles lost) this season. Only the Broncos (21) have more. However, the Cowboys’ .208 turnovers per drive represent the worst rate in the NFL, per Football Outsiders. It’s bad enough to be coughing up the ball that often, as turnovers kill drives and scoring opportunities. But to then have your defense play matador while opposing teams transform those miscues into points just compounds the problem.

The Cowboys have given up 290 points on the season – and more than one-third of those points have been scored off turnovers. Specifically, they have permitted 103 (!) points off turnovers, which is far and away the most in the NFL this season. A little math tells us that 103 points off turnovers allowed in nine games are more than 10 points per game allowed off turnovers. That makes an enormous difference.

It’s the primary reason they rank last in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 32.2 points per game. By the way, the 32.2 points per game average is the worst in franchise history – just ahead of the 30.8 points allowed per game by the 1960 Cowboys – the first year of the franchise.

Yes, this Dallas team is historically bad.

The Vikings have not exactly been ballhawks defensively this season, but they have started forcing more and more turnovers in recent weeks. They opened the season by creating only five takeaways through their first six games, but have forced six turnovers during their three-game winning streak (four interceptions and two fumble recoveries).

Thus, while much of the focus will be on Dalvin Cook (rightfully so) and the Vikings’ offense matching up against the worst scoring defense in the league, the bigger story in this game is bound to be the Cowboys’ mistakes and the Minnesota’s ability to capitalize.

Do you think coach Zimmer might be drilling his guys on punching the ball out during practice this week?

You just know that Eric Wilson, Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith are somewhere licking their chops at the prospect of more takeaways this Sunday as an appetizer to their Thanksgiving meals later in the week. There should be a veritable cornucopia of opportunities.

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