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5 takeaways from the Cowboys upset win against the Vikings

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Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In a statement victory for the Cowboys, what did we learn about this team?

At this point, the Minnesota Vikings are probably sick and tired of losing to the Dallas Cowboys’ backup quarterback. But this Minnesota team is significantly improved from 2020, and that was a statement win from the Cowboys.

Even in a game where the backup quarterback threw the ball 40 times, there is a lot that we can take away from the Cowboys’ Halloween matchup. This was a big victory for Dallas, and it came with a few prominent headlines.

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Mike McCarthy is the real deal

Dallas Cowboys v Minnesota Vikings
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If you don’t believe in Mike McCarthy yet, what will it take? Because that win was more leadership than anything else, and Mike Zimmer was thoroughly outcoached.

Let’s review the situation. Dak Prescott, who currently has the fifth-best odds to win MVP according to DraftKings Sportsbook, was ruled out moments before kickoff. The Minnesota Vikings had won three of their last four games, including a victory against the Russell Wilson-led Seahawks.

And it’s not like the luck was all on Dallas’ side during the game either. You lose Tyron Smith in the first half, Jabril Cox goes down during a punt, and the Cowboys gave up two turnovers and didn’t force any. It is always easy to blame officiating, and it should never be an excuse, but a good majority of the Cowboys’ eleven penalties felt like soft calls.

If you had heard all of that before the game started, what would you have guessed would be the final score? The Cowboys should have lost.

In fact, teams that commit over 90 yards of penalties, lose the turnover margin and score less than 21 points only win in 6% of games. That is not even to mention that Dallas had to overcome all of this behind a quarterback with three career attempts entering last night.

But the entire team played as if they knew they were going to win. The heart and sheer determination to surmount all of the obstacles that Dallas faced is a sign of great coaching. Every player was flying to the ball, making the open field tackle, and winning contested catches. The Cowboys wanted it more than the Vikings.

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Dan Quinn coached a superb game. But we cannot give McCarthy enough credit for what he did on Sunday Night.

Special teams might be the Cowboys’ biggest weakness

Dallas Cowboys v Minnesota Vikings
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This takeaway is also a statement about the rest of the team. Dallas is loaded with talent at nearly every position, but special teams has become the weakest aspect of the Cowboys’ game.

Despite being on the field for just 10% of plays, Dallas’ special teams accounts for 20% of their total penalties on the year. This includes eight special teams’ penalties in just three games, the first two and the most recent.

Leading the league in special teams penalties is part of the reason the Cowboys are currently the tenth worst special teams by PFF grading.

Now, Greg Zuerlein is an interesting aspect of John Fassel’s squad. The Cowboys’ kicker was perfect within 50 yards since week one, but with an ugly 43-yard missed field goal against the Vikings, he seems to still struggle with consistency.

Granted, no kicker is perfect, and it is nearly impossible to find a truly reliable kicker. However, the Cowboys currently have the twelfth worst field goal percentage in the NFL.

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No, Greg Zuerlein is not the most pressing issue the Cowboys have right now. But the special teams as a whole is the only disappointing aspect of Dallas’ season thus far. The roster is filled with talent, and there has to be a weakness somewhere. Unfortunately for the special teams, it is them.

The defense is officially great

Dallas Cowboys v Minnesota Vikings
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In 2020, if you had heard that just one year later, the defense would single-handedly win the Cowboys a game, would you believe it? Because that is precisely what happened Sunday night.

Coming into this game, there were two criticisms against Dan Quinn’s squad; the run defense is not as good as we might think, and turnovers are inflating the defense’s performance.

This was an entirely reasonable argument. Before week eight, Dallas’ defense was ranked eighth by EPA per play allowed, but they would fall to eighteen if you had taken away every team’s turnovers. And the Cowboys were also giving up 4.3 yards per attempt on the ground, but opponents were refusing to run on Dallas because they had to play catch up with the Cowboys offense.

But on Sunday night, the defense proved they are a legitimate threat. Dallas forced zero turnovers and only had a lead for 1.5% of the game. So, what happened?

The Vikings converted just 7% of their third downs, Dalvin Cook was contained to 78 yards and was successful on only 37% of his runs. Kirk Cousins didn’t drop back to pass 42 times because he had to play catchup; he did so because the Cowboys shut down the run.

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By EPA per play allowed Dallas finished with the second-best defense in week eight, and turnovers played no factor in this ranking. Sure the Vikings offense isn’t elite, but it’s far from the worst. And after the first drive, the Cowboys completely shut them down.

It’s hard to believe after what we saw last season, but this defense is officially great. It is top ten, and at this point, you could begin to argue top five. Thank you, Dan Quinn.

Tyron Smith is the glue that holds the offensive line together

Carolina Panthers v Dallas Cowboys
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Sunday night was not a good showing from the offensive line. Dallas came into this game ranked fifth and first by PFF in pass blocking and run blocking, respectively. If you had taken their grading in these metrics against the Vikings alone, they would fall 13th and 30th.

To give the line credit, the Vikings were scheming to make it difficult for the ground game and put pressure on an inexperienced quarterback. But there was a clear decline in the line’s performance once Tyron Smith exited with an injury, and it was an inefficient second half from the offensive line across the board.

With Tyron Smith in the first half, the Cowboys were successful on 44% of their rushing plays, which is above the league average. But when Smith left the game, the Cowboys didn’t run a single successful running play for the remainder of the game. And it is not like they were exclusively running left.

Without Smith, the pass blocking held up fine, but it was far from perfect. Cooper Rush was getting the ball out quicker than 22 other quarterbacks in week eight, yet he was still sacked three times. No quarterback with a faster release than Rush was sacked more in week eight. He kept the passes quick and close to the line of scrimmage, yet he still faced a good amount of pressure.

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The line had played exceptionally well all year, and the Vikings are not a team that posed a daunting threat on the defensive line. The only thing that changed was Tyron Smith leaving the game.

Smith’s health is part of the reason for the line’s resurgence in 2021. We have to hope he can return to the field as soon as possible and keep the line performing to the level we have come to expect. Because if not, there might be a sizable drop-off in the offensive line’s performance based on what we have seen.

Randy Gregory is a Pro Bowl-level pass rusher

Dallas Cowboys v Minnesota Vikings
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In a contract year, Randy Gregory has done nothing but prove his worth to the team. With Demarcus Lawrence down to injury, Gregory has taken the mantle as the disruptor on Dallas’ defensive line.

Currently ranked as the third-best pass rusher and the sixth-best defender by PFF, he is establishing himself as a game-changing player. If Gregory keeps this up, a Pro Bowl is just the floor with All-Pro status being attainable.

Over the last four weeks, Gregory is tied for the most pressures on the quarterback, tied for the eighth-most sacks, and has the fourth-best win percentage in the pass rush. That is all on top of his two forced fumbles.

Gregory has been disruptive and he is consistently playing to the level we believed he could. With Demarcus Lawrence returning somewhat soon, it will be a spectacle to see both of these rushers playing to their highest level at the same time. There are many reasons to be optimistic about this defense, and Gregory is near the top of that list.

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If he keeps up the pace that we have seen over the last few weeks, Gregory is a lock to make his first-ever Pro Bowl. Cowboys fans should be happy to know the contract price is going up because it means we are seeing Gregory developing into the player we hoped he would be.

What a game Sunday Night Football turned into. You likely started watching somewhat pessimistic about the outcome given that Prescott wasn’t playing, and it only got worse after the Vikings’ first drive. Then, as the game stayed close and Rush gained confidence, you started to gain some hope. This all culminated into the final four minutes, where you were beside yourself. Is that in any way accurate?

The Cowboys keep the winning streak alive, but more importantly, they established themselves as a threat to the league. This is not the Dallas team of 2016, 2014, or 2007; this is an entirely different squad playing at an entirely different level.



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How to watch Appalachian State vs. James Madison: NCAA Football live stream info, TV channel, time, game odds

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Who’s Playing

James Madison @ Appalachian State

Current Records: James Madison 2-0; Appalachian State 2-1

What to Know

The James Madison Dukes watched the action from their couches last weekend, but are set to take to the field. James Madison and the Appalachian State Mountaineers will face off in a Sun Belt battle at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The odds don’t look promising for the Dukes, but the bigger the opponent is, the harder they fall.

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A well-balanced attack led James Madison over the Norfolk State Spartans every single quarter on their way to victory two weeks ago. James Madison claimed a resounding 63-7 win over Norfolk State at home. The game was pretty much decided by the half, when the score had already reached 35 to nothing.

Meanwhile, Appalachian State didn’t have too much breathing room in their contest with the Troy Trojans last week, but they still walked away with a 32-28 victory. Appalachian State QB Chase Brice was slinging it as he passed for two TDs and 279 yards on 34 attempts. Near the top of the highlight reel was Brice’s 53-yard TD bomb to WR Christan Horn in the fourth quarter.

Their wins bumped the Dukes to 2-0 and the Mountaineers to 2-1. Watch the matchup and check back on CBS Sports to find out who keeps up the positive energy and who hits a stumbling block.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Kidd Brewer Stadium — Boone, North Carolina
  • TV: ESPN Plus
  • Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.)
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $40.99

Odds

The Mountaineers are a solid 6.5-point favorite against the Dukes, according to the latest college football odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Mountaineers as a 7.5-point favorite.

Over/Under: -111

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See college football picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

This is the first time these teams have played each other within the last seven years.



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UTSA vs. Texas Southern: How to watch NCAA Football online, TV channel, live stream info, game time

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Who’s Playing

Texas Southern @ UTSA

Current Records: Texas Southern 1-2; UTSA 1-2

What to Know

The Texas Southern Tigers will take on the UTSA Roadrunners at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Alamodome. Texas Southern isn’t favored, but they just beat the odds in their last game, so don’t count them out.

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The Tigers kept a clean sheet against the Southern University Jaguars last week and took the matchup 24 to nothing. The squad ran away with 21 points in the first half and mostly just sat on those in the second to pick up the victory.

Meanwhile, it was all tied up 17-17 at halftime, but UTSA was not quite the Texas Longhorns’ equal in the second half when they met last week. The Roadrunners suffered a grim 41-20 defeat to the Longhorns. This contest was a close 17-17 at the break, but unfortunately for UTSA it sure didn’t stay that way. A silver lining for them was the play of RB Brenden Brady, who threw one touchdown in addition to punching in one rushing touchdown.

Texas Southern’s win lifted them to 1-2 while UTSA’s loss dropped them down to 1-2. We’ll find out if the Tigers can add another positive mark to their record or if UTSA can shake off the defeat and take the spring out of Texas Southern’s step.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Alamodome — San Antonio, Texas
  • TV: STADIUM
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $69.00

Odds

The Roadrunners are a big 42-point favorite against the Tigers, according to the latest college football odds.

Bettors have moved against the Roadrunners slightly, as the game opened with the Roadrunners as a 44-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

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Series History

This is the first time these teams have played each other within the last seven years.



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North Carolina vs. Notre Dame live stream info, TV channel: How to watch NCAA Football on TV, stream online

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Who’s Playing

Notre Dame @ North Carolina

Current Records: Notre Dame 1-2; North Carolina 3-0

What to Know

The North Carolina Tar Heels will be returning home after a two-game road trip. They will take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kenan Memorial Stadium after a week off. UNC is expected to win — but not by much — so they will need to come into the game prepared for a fight.

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The Tar Heels beat the Georgia State Panthers 35-28 two weeks ago. Among those leading the charge for UNC was RB Omarion Hampton, who rushed for two TDs and 110 yards on 16 carries. Hampton put himself on the highlight reel with a 58-yard TD scramble in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame netted a 24-17 victory over the California Golden Bears last week. RB Audric Estime and RB Chris Tyree were among the main playmakers for Notre Dame as the former punched in one rushing touchdown and the latter snatched one receiving TD.

Notre Dame’s defense was a presence as well, as it embarrassed California’s offensive line to sack QB Jack Plummer six times for a total loss of 47 yards. It was a group effort with four guys contributing.

The wins brought the Tar Heels up to 3-0 and the Fighting Irish to 1-2. A pair of stats to keep an eye on: UNC enters the matchup with 310 passing yards per game on average, good for 21st best in the nation. But Notre Dame comes into the contest boasting the 34th fewest passing yards allowed per game in the nation at 184. These opposing strengths should make for an exciting matchup.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Kenan Memorial Stadium — Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • TV: ABC
  • Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.)
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $110.00

Odds

The Tar Heels are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Fighting Irish, according to the latest college football odds.

The line on this game has moved quite a bit since it opened, as it started out with the Fighting Irish as a 1.5-point favorite.

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Over/Under: -110

See college football picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Notre Dame have won all of the games they’ve played against North Carolina in the last eight years.

  • Oct 30, 2021 – Notre Dame 44 vs. North Carolina 34
  • Nov 27, 2020 – Notre Dame 31 vs. North Carolina 17
  • Oct 07, 2017 – Notre Dame 33 vs. North Carolina 10



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