Death, taxes, and the Minnesota Vikings playing with our hearts: Some things are inevitable.
No, Sunday didn’t feature another nail-biting finish for the Vikings. After seven consecutive one-possession wins, which ties an NFL record, the Dallas Cowboys outclassed Minnesota 40-3 at U.S. Bank Stadium. Fittingly, this came on the heels of perhaps the most thrilling Vikings game since the 2017 NFC Divisional Round matchup against the New Orleans Saints, which Stefon Diggs capped off with the Minneapolis Miracle.
But Sunday felt much like the NFC Championship game they played seven days after the Minneapolis Miracle. The Vikings were riding high until Dallas served the Vikings a giant slice of humble pie four days ahead of Thanksgiving.
Here are five numbers that tell the story of the Vikings’ loss to the Cowboys.
The Cowboys pressured Kirk Cousins all game on Sunday, getting sacked seven times. This gave Dallas a total of 42 sacks on the season, the most in the NFL. It was also the most that Cousins had ever been sacked during his NFL career.
The Cowboys began terrorizing Cousins on the first drive of the game. On third-and-3, star linebacker Micah Parsons fought through a Christian Darrisaw block and strip-sacked Cousins. It set the tone for the game. Darrisaw would leave the game for the second time in as many games due to a concussion, further hurting the pass protection. According to Next Gen Stats, Parsons had an Average Separation from QB (defined as the average distance from passer on throws or sacks) of 3.27 yards. The NFL average is 4.53 yards.
After a monster game in Buffalo, Justin Jefferson was limited to only 33 receiving yards on three receptions. He was only targeted five times after catching 10 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown last week against the Bills.
What is striking is that Jefferson was getting more separation on routes than last week. According to Next Gen Stats, he had an average separation from the nearest defender at the time of the catch and incompletion of 1.48 yards against the Buffalo Bills. In Sunday’s matchup against the Cowboys, he had an average separation of 3.67 yards. However, Dallas constantly harassed Cousins, and he could never make adequate progressions to find open receivers downfield.
The Cowboys converted on 12 of 17 third-down attempts, keeping drives moving and scoring touchdowns twice on third down. Coming into Sunday’s game, the Vikings owned the league’s ninth-ranked third-down defense, allowing conversions on only 36.8 percent of attempts. The defense that bent but didn’t break all year finally broke on Sunday.
This wasn’t by mistake, either. Dallas only faced third-and-6 or longer four times. Their average go-to-go distance was 4.8 yards. So although the Cowboys only averaged 3.8 yards-per-rush on the afternoon, they were able to convert short conversions and keep drives alive.
The running game wasn’t the only thing working for Dallas on Sunday. The Vikings didn’t sack Dak Prescott once all day. This was the first time they had zero sacks in a game all season. According to Pro Football Focus, they only generated 10 pressures, allowing Prescott to execute a masterful performance. He threw for 276 yards and two touchdowns while completing 22 of 25 passes.
After 31 pressures against the Bills, Minnesota’s pass rush was non-existent on Sunday. The closest they got was in the second quarter. Down 10-3, Za’Darius Smith appeared to have Prescott wrapped up for a sack that would have set up the Cowboys with a second-and-long inside their five-yard line. Instead, Prescott escaped, picking up one yard on the scramble. Dallas would kick a field goal at the end of that drive and never feel threatened for the rest of the game.
The Vikings got thoroughly whooped by Dallas, getting outgained by 275 yards. Minnesota allowed 458 total yards, the fifth time this year they have allowed over 400. On the other side of the ball, the Vikings’ offense limped to 183 yards, their lowest output of the Kevin O’Connell era.
They averaged a paltry three yards per pass. The running game was a little better, averaging 4.3 yards per attempt. But with the game out of hand by the time the offense got the ball in the second half, the Vikings had to resort to passing (or, perhaps more accurately, take more sacks). Minnesota will have to right what ailed them on Sunday, or else they will continue to be exposed by the NFC’s best.