Good teams don’t get swept up in the theatrics of a big game. Regardless of if they play at 7:20 p.m. or noon, they’re supposed to be focused on playing to their strengths, making the other team play left-handed, and methodically bending the opponent to their will. But it’s not a virtue when I say that the Dallas Cowboys game looked like almost every other game the Minnesota Vikings have played this year. It’s a vice.
This game should have looked like the Arizona Cardinals game, minus the missed extra point and last-second field goal. Of course, that dynamic was altered when the Cowboys ruled Dak Prescott out. But it shouldn’t have been overhauled.
The formula to win this game was to get ahead on backup quarterback Cooper Rush and force him to make mistakes. Instead, Dallas was in it the whole time, and he was able to spread the ball around to Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Cedrick Wilson with relative ease. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard also took pressure off him by making the Vikings account for the run all game.
The Cowboys got enough pressure on Kirk Cousins and had enough coverage downfield to routinely force him into check-downs. Fullback C.J. Ham finished with more catches than Justin Jefferson. Tyler Conklin was treated like he was Irv Smith Jr. Dallas played their game and won. That’s difficult to do with a backup quarterback who’s making his first start at age 28.
The Vikings entered this game without their top corner, Patrick Peterson, and Danielle Hunter went out with a shoulder injury. It was reasonable to think that this would look more like the Cardinals game than the Cleveland Browns or Detroit Lions game. But that would have been the best-case scenario. Somehow, the team with the $31 million quarterback, superstar running back, and a dynamic receiver duo force-fed their fullback and threw short of the sticks in the passing game.
“I would say if you’re not frustrated, there’s something wrong with you,” said Adam Thielen. “And you shouldn’t be on this team, you shouldn’t be a coach, if you’re not frustrated. We want to win.
“We want to put the effort — we do put the effort in — week to week, every single day at practice. We have the guys, quality guys, good football players, on this team to do it. So if you’re not frustrated, there’s something wrong. ”
Thielen was alone in his bluntness after the game. Zimmer and Cousins were curt, mostly sticking to “pressure” and “coverage” as the reasons the Vikings couldn’t push the ball down the field. And, yeah, Dallas is a one-loss team that has skilled players across their roster. But Minnesota may look at the film tomorrow and realize that Cousins occasionally felt pressure that wasn’t there. Thielen and Jefferson had to have been open on some of the plays where he checked the ball down. And, no matter what, they’re gonna see a game that they could have won.
“We gotta quit just hanging in games,” Thielen added. “Every game, we just hang around, hang around, hang around. Let the team hang around. Instead of just putting our foot on the gas and goin’. Like you guys said, we went down, we score on that first drive, you’ve gotta put the foot on the gas.”
“This was a tough loss tonight,” Zimmer acknowledged, echoing Thielen. “We had a good crowd; it was loud. Home, primetime game. And we had plenty of opportunities to win that football game, and we didn’t do it.”
Letting teams hang around has been a theme for the Vikings this year. So is playing down to their opponents. They’re good enough to put away teams like the Cincinnati Bengals, Lions, or the Carolina Panthers. They certainly should do that with a team quarterbacked by Cooper Rush. But, time and time again, they look great on the first drive and then stall out and tried to use their defense to squeeze the life out of their opponents. The formula is broken. They’ve got to fix it before this season slips away from them.