I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong about what I thought would happen on Sunday. However, I’m not guilty of doubting what Cooper Rush could do. Throughout the week, I fielded questions about whether this Dallas Cowboys team could win in Minnesota with Rush.
My answer was simple. With the amount of talent on this offense, there are at least 50 quarterbacks in the NFL that would have a chance to keep this unit moving the football enough to get a win.
This isn’t 2020. A year ago, Andy Dalton had his fair share of struggle, but Dak Prescott wasn’t the only player missing. The offensive line was in shambles thanks to injuries. Ezekiel Elliott and the run game weren’t producing, and most importantly, this defense was doing nothing to help the matter. That is what I was guilty of with my prediction last week. Any team that is going to beat Dallas needs to match their offensive output. This group is just too good to be held in check for four quarters.
Where I was wrong
However, an opposing offense that can put us in an early hole while sustaining success that doesn’t allow the Cowboys to dig themselves out is the key to beating America’s Team. I thought Minnesota had that thanks to the outstanding balance they can play with thanks to Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen.
This Dallas Cowboys defense, with some help from a mediocre performance by Kirk Cousins, proved me wrong. I thought the combination of Dallas’ recent slow starts and Minnesota’s offensive talent would beat us before I knew Prescott wasn’t going to play. Still, this defense answered the bell, and Rush was good enough for the Cowboys to get the win. And let’s be honest, it seemed as if the narrative that Dallas would fall was growing throughout the day.
Talks got more and more serious about Prescott sitting out all day Sunday. Then, when former-Cowboy Mike White had an incredible performance for the Jets, it seemed as if the plotline of Dallas not having a suitable option behind Prescott was growing. Still, the Cowboys showed a resiliency that has been rare over the last quarter-century. Let’s take a look at the good and bad from Sunday night’s 20-16 victory.
Takeaways From the Dallas Cowboys Week 8 Win
Big Names Stepped up on Offense
A year ago, when Dak Prescott went down, my biggest complaint was that our other high-priced players weren’t stepping up. Whenever a starting quarterback goes down, the veterans must take it upon themselves to up their game.
We just didn’t see that in 2020. However, we saw it on Sunday night. This offensive line stepped up against a defense that was leading the NFL in sacks. Sure, Cooper Rush took some sacks, but the pressure wasn’t an overwhelming factor in the game.
People can complain about the Cowboys’ running game not being more prominent, but they did their job. Minnesota wanted to make Rush beat them by staking the box to stop the run, and Dallas ran it just enough to keep Harrison Smith in the box consistently to open up things in the passing game.
And kudos to Kellen Moore for sticking with that heavy wishbone alignment. I’ve loved some of the personnel groupings we’ve seen from him this year, but sometimes I wished we’d stuck with them throughout the contest. We did that on Sunday, and the Vikings had no choice but to continue to honor the run for the majority of the night. You don’t have to run for 200 yards to keep teams committed to stopping the rushing attack when you have Dallas’ talent. You just have to keep running it because the track record says Elliott and Pollard can take over at any time.
Zeke and Coop seal the deal
Speaking of Elliott, what an incredible individual effort he made on third and 11. After a five-yard penalty by the Vikings for calling consecutive timeouts, Elliott took it upon himself to get the necessary yards to keep the possibility of a touchdown alive. That is the kind of effort I’m talking about with Prescott out.
Amari Cooper is another guy that went over and beyond to give this team a chance. Whether it was the juggling catch or the game-winning touchdown, he raised his level of play. That is what Championship-level teams do when injuries rear their ugly head.
Post-Bye Week Micah Parsons
We can talk all we want about the Cowboys’ offensive players, but the two most impactful presences in the game were Parsons and Randy Gregory. I will get to Gregory next, but first, let’s focus on the Cowboys’ top rookie. I don’t know what Parsons was doing during the Cowboys’ bye week, but judging by his performance, I wouldn’t be shocked if he spent every waking moment at The Star watching film.
Parsons got out to a great start this year because of his ability to help as a pass rusher. Still, I had my worries about how much Dallas was throwing at him as a rookie. Let’s not act like we haven’t seen this before. When Byron Jones was drafted, the Dallas Cowboys moved him back and forth from safety to corner to the slot, and in the end, flashes of brilliance were all we got because he was never able to truly focus on one role as a rookie.
Ever since Parsons moved primarily to linebacker against Carolina, his impact took a hit. However, coming out of the bye week, it looks as if the game has slowed down for him, and the rest of the NFL should be worried. We’ve seen glimpses of his incredible speed, but against the Vikings, he was flying around everywhere. That only happens when a player is naturally reacting to what they see and not thinking about it.
Parsons was picking up quickly on the flow of the play. The result was 11 tackles with ten solo stops and four plays that pushed the offense backward. He also got several pressures in the game, and overall, he looked like one of the top linebackers in football on Sunday.
Defensive line Dominance
Parsons was sensational on Sunday, but we have to credit the guys in front of him who helped make that possible. Justin Hamilton had his best game as a Cowboy, and it wasn’t just as a run stuffer. Yes, he gave Garrett Bradbury fits with his power. Not only did he make several stops against the run, but he set up opportunities for others to make plays by forcing the runner to change course. However, he also had four pressures on Kirk Cousins and drew a holding penalty on Oli Udoh.
Quinton Bohanna has been solid for most of the year. However, the decision to go with Hamilton ahead of him in this one was a home run. Carlos Watkins and Osa Odidhizuwa also came up with several big plays against the run, and the trio was a big reason Dalvin Cook struggled to have an impact for most of the night.
Let’s not forget about the edge players. Randy Gregory’s dominance continues to show up. He’s now garnered a grade of 90.0 or higher in three straight weeks by Pro Football Focus. He’s especially dominant looping inside on stunts. When he has the space to accelerate, his ability to turn that speed into power is unstoppable, and we saw that against the Vikings.
In addition, Dorance Armstrong had several pressures in his first game back from injury, including one that forced an intentional grounding penalty. Tarell Basham put some heat on Cousins as well.
Overall, this unit is missing Demarcus Lawrence, Neville Gallimore, and Brent Urban, and they were still able to lead the charge against a dangerous Minnesota offense. Not only did they limit them to only 17 points and 278 yards, but they also helped hold the Vikings to 1-13 on third down.
What’s going on with La’el Collins
This is going to be a big question moving forward. I love the way Terence Steele has performed, but Collins is one of the top right tackles in football at his best. There’s an unwritten rule that players never lose their job because of an injury. However, it appears Dallas didn’t feel the same when it came to his suspension.
Considering the reports point to Collins having brought this five-game ban on himself, I get keeping Steele in the starting lineup. However, when Tyron Smith came out because of his ankle, it was baffling to see Ty Nsekhe come into the game and not Dallas’ high-priced veteran. It seems unfathomable that he’s not in shape, given he was able to return to the facility after three weeks of the suspension. That gave him three full weeks, including the bye to prepare for his return. Following the game, reports stated Dallas didn’t want him playing on the left because he’s not experienced there. However, Steele is, so I’m not exactly buying that logic.
Another explanation was the possibility of Collins being on the trade block. That didn’t turn out to be the case either. Maybe there is a fraction in the relationship between Collins and the team. There were whispers that his reasoning for the emergency motion to halt the suspension midway through his ban revolved around the possibility of the guarantees in his contract being void. With the league pointing to an alleged bride at one of his drug tests as part of the reasoning for the suspension, it’s understandable that he’d want to get the decision overturned.
Those actions could lead to Dallas voiding his contract considering how Steele has played and the Cowboys’ future cap limitations. Whatever the reason for his not playing, it’s concerning.
Injuries stacking up
This isn’t something anyone can control, but it is concerning that injuries are starting to stack up. Yes, players have been returning, but others are quickly taking their place on IR. It goes beyond Prescott. Tyron Smith and Trevon Diggs continue to struggle with nagging injuries, and Jabril Cox tore his ACL last Sunday. Amari Cooper also exited at one point with a hamstring issue, though he did return.
The idea of what the Dallas Cowboys could become once fully healthy is raising expectations for a team that seems to grow more confident every week. Several players returned for the Vikings’ game, and guys like Michael Gallup and Francis Bernard seem on pace to return against Denver.
Still, it would be nice to see the Cowboys’ depth continue to grow, as opposed to the constant shuffling of players on and off the roster.