NFL Week 8 Game Recap: Dallas Cowboys 20, Minnesota Vikings 16 | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF

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NFL Week 8 Game Recap: Dallas Cowboys 20, Minnesota Vikings 16

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush (10) throws a pass that would be intercepted by Minnesota Vikings free safety Xavier Woods (not pictured) during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys survived their Sunday night affair without Dak Prescott.

A lot went right for America’s Team on the final drive — including an interceptable ball that somehow landed in Amari Cooper‘s hands for a big gain — but they did enough to defeat the Minnesota Vikings 20-16 to extend their win streak to six games and keep their perfect record against the spread alive.

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Dallas Cowboys

Quarterback

Cowboys backup quarterback Cooper Rush got the start in place of Prescott, and he had an up-and-down night aided by luck. Rush did complete nine passes over 10 yards downfield for 224 yards and a couple of scores, but he also produced three turnover-worthy plays on those same attempts.

Only one ended up being picked off, one fell incomplete and the other was actually completed because the ball clanked off Vikings corner Bashaud Breeland straight to wide receiver Amari Cooper for a big gain.

Running Backs

Ezekiel Elliott made a negative impact in the ground game. He broke only one tackle on 16 attempts and turned only three runs into a gain of five or more yards. The Cowboys star back failed to record a gain of 10 or more yards on the night.

Elliott did have one of the top plays of the night as a receiver when he took a red-zone target on third-and-11 just beyond the line of scrimmage and shed three tackles while adding 14 yards after the catch for a first down to extend the eventual game-winning drive.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

The Dallas passing offense produced 10 explosive pass plays of 15 or more yards, and eight came courtesy of Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb (four each). Cooper led the team in receiving grade, as he caught all eight of his catchable targets for a first down or score, three of which were contested.

While Cooper and Lamb were the top pass-catchers for Dallas, Cedrick Wilson did come up with a 73-yard touchdown reception and also delivered one of the best throws of the night on this trick play:

Offensive Line

Dallas got a decent performance out of their offensive line. The group allowed a 20% pressure rate for the game, the fifth-lowest of Week 8.

Ty Nsekhe came in for starter Tyron Smith near the end of the first half of play and was responsible for seven of the 17 total losses Dallas had along the offensive line in pass protection.

Tyron Smith vs. Ty Nsheke at LT on Sunday Night

Tyron Smith Ty Nsheke
14 Pass-Block Snaps 31
0/0/0 Sacks/Hits/Hurries Allowed 1/0/3
1 Total Losses 7
Defensive Line

Randy Gregory’s late-career breakout continued against Minnesota with another elite-graded performance as a pass-rusher. On first review, Gregory notched a 20.6% win rate and seven total pressures against the Vikings, one of which was a strip-sack. If that elite pass-rush grade holds, it will be his third straight grade above 90.0.

Interior defensive lineman Justin Hamilton was surprisingly impactful in the pass-rush. The reserve interior defender had played only 56 snaps this season and has spent most of the year on the practice squad. However, he was a force against the Vikings, with four pass-rush wins on 18 opportunities along with a couple of run stops.

Linebackers

Rookie Micah Parsons was the Cowboys’ highest-graded off-ball linebacker upon first review. Parsons did record a couple of pressures, but his biggest impact came in coverage. The rookie saw nine targets on 32 coverage snaps and allowed only 15 yards and one first down while recording four passing stops.

Micah Parsons Snaps By Alignment

Defensive Line 16
Box 40
Slot 3
Secondary

Trevon Diggs has been a true boom-or-bust corner through the first half of the 2021 season, leading the league in interceptions (seven) but also allowing the fourth-most yards in coverage (419). Tonight, it was all bust and no boom. Diggs was called for two penalties — a DPI and an illegal contact — and gave up four receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown.

Jourdan Lewis performed admirably in the slot for Dallas. He saw four targets across 29 coverage snaps and didn’t let any by him for a first down.

Minnesota Vikings

Quarterback

Kirk Cousins was his normal, conservative self on Sunday Night. Minnesota’s playcalling often seems to suggest a lack of faith in the QB, and Cousins reciprocated that with checkdowns at times when his team needed him to look for the big play. 

The veteran passer finished with a 4.3-yard average depth of target on the night and threw only 22.2% of his attempts past the sticks. Cousins did finish with four big-time throws, but the reliance on the safe passing attack overall led to an inefficient offense against Dallas. Minnesota generated -0.16 EPA per pass, the fourth-worst of the week.

Lowest Average Depth of Target in 2021

Player aDOT
30. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons 7.4
31. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers 7.2
32. Jacoby Brissett, Miami Dolphins 7.1
33. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings 6.8
34. Jared Goff, Detroit Lions 6.6
NFL AVG 8.4
Running Backs

Dalvin Cook turned only 16.7% of his carries into a first down and generated positive EPA on just 36.8% of his opportunities. Both of those metrics are among his five lowest marks since the start of 2020.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Star wide receiver Justin Jefferson got dinged up in this one, but he wasn’t his normal self from the get-go. Jefferson dropped two of his four targets and generated only 0.70 yards per route run. This was the first game of his NFL career he dropped multiple passes, and it was his second-least-productive performance on a per-route basis.

As for Adam Thielen, he continued his run of reliable production. He generated 1.95 yards per route run and caught all six of his catchable targets, three of which came over 10 yards downfield.

Offensive Line

Minnesota's offensive line had a rough time handling the Dallas defensive front in pass protection. Each of the five starters allowed multiple pressures on the night en route to a 40% pressure rate allowed as a team. They own one of the five lowest-graded offensive lines in pass-protection from Week 8 upon first review.

Minnesota’s OL in Pass-Protection on First Review

Player Sacks/Hits/Hurries Total Losses
LT Christian Darrisaw 1/1/0 5
LG Ezra Cleveland 0/0/3 5
C Garrett Bradbury 0/2/2 4
RG Oli Udoh 0/0/2 4
RT Brian O’Neill 0/0/2 2
Defensive Line

Edge defender Danielle Hunter left early with an injury. With or without him on the field on Sunday Night, the Vikings' defensive line failed to win in the pass-rush consistently despite blitzing 36% of the time. Everson Griffen was the only Viking to come away with multiple pressures, as he finished with three hurries and one sack.

Linebackers

Eric Kendricks was one of the few standout performers from the Vikings on Sunday night. He posted a couple of run stops, sacked Cooper Rush on a blitz and made plays in coverage. Kendricks didn’t allow a first down on six targets and recorded a forced incompletion and two passing stops.

Anthony Barr won’t end up with an elite grade, but he did have a good performance. He got a quarterback hit on one of his blitz opportunities and only allowed 18 yards in coverage.

Secondary

Minnesota’s outside corners — Bashaud Breeland and Cameron Dantzler — had a rough go against the Dallas receiving corps. Between the two of them, they allowed 12 receptions for 191 yards and a touchdown — all of which moved the chains — across 18 targets.

Mackensie Alexander also had a down night while covering the slot. He allowed four receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown while also getting called for a penalty.

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