NFL News & Analysis

DAL-MIN grades: O-line leads Cowboys to close victory

Dallas Cowboys 17, Minnesota Vikings 15

Here are the top-graded players and biggest takeaways from Dallas' 17-15 win over Minnesota in Week 13:

Dallas Cowboys

Quarterback grade: Dak Prescott, 76.5

Prescott suffers from rookie struggles in close win

Prescott didn’t throw the ball downfield in harm’s way, but he coughed up two fumbles in the game, with one leading to three points for the Vikings. For the most part in this one, Prescott struggled to consistently move the offense. We’ve become accustomed to seeing him hitting short throws lead his receivers past the sticks, but on Thursday his 10 targets within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage netted just 56 total yards.

Top offensive grades:

C Travis Frederick, 83.6

LT Tyron Smith, 83.0

LG Ronald Leary, 82.9

RG Zack Martin, 78.9

WR Dez Bryant, 76.3

The holes were there for Elliott, but he didn't capitalize 

Ezekiel Elliott is going to be watching the game tape this week knowing that he left some more yards out on the field. Never mind the long run that got called back by a holding penalty — there were multiple reads Elliott missed throughout the game that would have likely still churned him over 100 yards. (He finished with 86 and a touchdown.) The left side of the Cowboys' offensive line was caving in the backside of outside zone runs play after play, and Elliott was often slow to work back there.

Top defensive grades:

CB Orlando Scandrick, 88.9

DE DeMarcus Lawrence, 85.2

DT Maliek Collins, 85.1

LB Anthony Hitchens, 84.1

CB Anthony Brown, 83.7

Lawrence, Collins lead pass-rush attack

Entering the game, DE DeMarcus Lawrence had just 11 pressures on 202 pass rushes this season. Going up against the struggling Vikings offensive line allowed him to total nine total on the night. Rookie Maliek Collins also had by far his best pass-rushing game of the season, with six pressures of his own, including two sacks. It certainly helped in the secondary as well. Anthony Brown and Orlando Scandrick were the top-graded defenders in coverage, and on a combined 10 targets, they surrendered six receptions for just 32 yards, with no catch going for more than seven yards.

Minnesota Vikings

Quarterback grade: Sam Bradford, 69.8

Bradford efficient when given time to throw

Sam Bradford was under pressure for exactly one-third of his 48 dropbacks on Thursday night. When he was kept clean, he completed 25 of 31 aimed throws for a 101.5 passer rating. But when he was pressured, he completed just 50 percent of his 14 passes. Still, he made good throws in both circumstances, and at times wasn’t helped out by his receivers, like his near-perfectly thrown pass in the end zone that went through tight end Kyle Rudolph’s hands.

Top offensive grades:

RT Jeremiah Sirles, 76.5

TE Kyle Rudolph, 74.6

WR Stefon Diggs, 74.2

C Nick Easton, 71.2

WR Adam Thielen, 70.5

Offensive line hinders offensive production

Minnesota has had to piece together an offensive line this season, and it hasn’t gone well. Thursday night was no different. LT T.J. Clemmings may get the brunt of the scrutiny after allowing eight total pressures and committing three penalties, but he was far from the only issue up front. RG Brandon Fusco allowed five pressures of his own for the fourth time this season, including two sacks. LG Alex Boone gave up three pressures, with maybe the biggest one coming on the two-point conversion attempt that left Bradford throwing with a hand in his face. The line did get a little better as the game wore on, but they are going to need a find a way to improve quickly if they want to make the playoffs.

Top defensive grades:

DE Everson Griffen, 84.6

CB Xavier Rhodes, 79.2

LB Eric Kendricks, 78.7

DE Brian Robison, 77.9

DE Danielle Hunter, 75.9

One mistake ruins impressive performance

When you play as aggressively as Harrison Smith does at safety, you’re bound to get burned at some point. It’s unfortunate that it had to happen in a game that was so close where the rest of the secondary played well. Outside of Smith’s 74 yards, the rest of the secondary combined to allow 43 yards on 7-of-10 targets. While he allowed the touchdown to Dez Bryant, Xavier Rhodes was lights-out besides that, allowing only two catches on his five other targets.

PFF Game-Ball Winner: Cowboys CB Orlando Scandrick

PFF’s player grading process includes multiple reviews, which may change the grade initially published in order to increase its accuracy. Learn more about how we grade and access grades for every player through each week of the NFL season by subscribing to Player Grades.

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