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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
Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

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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Aaron Rodgers to the Jets? Giants' free agency options & Mike McCarthy's future with Cowboys | Ask Jay Glazer

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Jay Glazer discussed whether Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will head to the New York Jets, the New York Giants’ free agency options, and breaks down Mike McCarthy’s future with the Dallas Cowboys.



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Super Bowl LVII: Chiefs and Eagles will meet for title in Arizona

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Patrick Mahomes finally got the best of Joe Burrow. 

All he needed was a little shove.

Harrison Butker made a 45-yard field goal with 3 seconds left — after Cincinnati’s Joseph Ossai was flagged for a 15-yard penalty for shoving Mahomes after he was out of bounds — and the Chiefs beat the Bengals 23-20 in the AFC championship game to make it back to the Super Bowl.

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Kansas City will face the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona. 

The Eagles opened as a 1 1/2-point favourite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

There are no shortage of storylines: Kansas City coach Andy Reid goes against his old team — which he led to Super Bowl 39 — in a game that’s also the first matchup of Black starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl with Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. 

On top of that, there’s a brother-against-brother showdown between Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Philadelphia center Jason Kelce.

“Officially done being a Chiefs fan this season!! ” Jason Kelce tweeted immediately after the Chiefs won.

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The Chiefs have been making deep postseason runs on a regular basis ever since Mahomes came to town as the franchise quarterback. 

This was their fifth straight trip to the AFC title game and will be their third Super Bowl appearance in that span. They beat the 49ers for the NFL title in the 2019 season, but lost to the Bucs the following season.

The Eagles clobbered the Niners 31-7 in the NFC title game earlier Sunday. They’ve looked dominant in the playoffs so far, also beating the New York Giants 38-7 in the divisional round.

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Philadelphia is back in the Super Bowl five years after beating the New England Patriots 41-33 on Feb. 4, 2018. 

Now a mostly new generation of Eagles — led by coach Nick Sirianni and Hurts — will come to Arizona to try and win another title.

The Chiefs-Bengals game looked as if it was going to overtime before Ossai’s ill-advised play. Mahomes — who was playing on a badly sprained ankle — was running to get a first down in the final seconds as Ossai desperately tried to track him down. 

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Mahomes was out of bounds when Ossai gave him a shove, sending both players tumbling to the turf. The ensuing 15-yard penalty was enough to push Butker into field-goal range and the kick split the uprights.

A distraught Ossai sat on the bench with his head in his hands, well after the game was over.

The Bengals and Chiefs were playing for the fourth time in less than 400 days and Cincinnati had won the previous three meetings — all by three points. This one was decided by a field goal, too, and all Burrow could do was watch.

The Bengals lost to the Rams in last year’s Super Bowl and they just missed another chance at returning to the title game.

NO DRAMA IN NFC

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Oddsmakers thought fans were in for some close conference championship games. 

They’ll have to settle for a 50% success rate.

The NFC title game was a blowout. Niners rookie quarterback Brock Purdy was injured in the first quarter when Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick drilled his right arm on a play that was ruled a fumble. The Eagles recovered that fumble and the injury proved to be a game-changer.

With Purdy hurt, San Francisco turned to 36-year-old journeyman Josh Johnson, who couldn’t do much before eventually leaving with a concussion. Purdy came back into the game, but could barely throw, and the Eagles cruised to the win.

The 49ers dealt with quarterback injuries all season, losing Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo before turning to Purdy, a seventh-round draft pick out of Iowa State. Purdy stepped into a starter’s role in December and won his first seven games before Sunday’s injury. 

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Here’s a few things to know about the upcoming Super Bowl:

WHAT’S THE UPCOMING SCHEDULE?

FEB. 5

Pro Bowl flag-football game, 3 p.m. EST, ABC/ESPN

FEB. 12

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Super Bowl LVII, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 6:30 p.m. EST, Fox

RIHANNA AT HALFTIME

Rihanna will take center stage as the headline act for this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.

With sales of more than 250 million records worldwide, Rihanna ranks as one of the best-selling female artists ever. Her most recent album was 2016′s “Anti.” Rihanna last performed publicly at the Grammy Awards in 2018.

The singer said she turned down a similar opportunity for the 2019 Super Bowl that was ultimately headlined by Maroon 5. At the time, many artists voiced support for Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who protested police brutality against Black people and minorities by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

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Country music star Chris Stapleton will sing the national anthem, while R&B legend Babyface will perform “America the Beautiful.” 

PRO BOWL MAKEOVER

The Pro Bowl is getting a major makeover this year after the NFL eliminated its full-contact all-star game and replaced it with weeklong skills competitions and a flag football game.

The flag football contest is Feb. 5 in Las Vegas at Allegiant Stadium, one week before the Super Bowl.

The Pro Bowl debuted in January 1951 in Los Angeles and stayed there for 21 seasons before the game moved to different cities from 1972-80. Hawaii hosted from 1980-2009, and the game has had several homes in the years since, including Miami, Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas.

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“The game was kind of silly, I guess,” Saints two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk said back in September when the news was announced. “Guys weren’t out there playing true football. Hopefully, there’ll be a lot of interactions with the fans and guys will get their opportunity to go out there and show some skills. I could see that being a good change.”

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Ohio State hires James Laurinaitis & Tennessee extends Huepel's contract | Joel Klatt Show

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Joel Klatt discussed Ohio State Buckeyes hiring former linebacker James Laurinaitis as a defensive GA. Joel believes that Laurinaitis can help transform the defense into a powerhouse like the offense is for wide receivers. He then discussed the Tennessee Volunteers giving Josh Huepel a contract extension after their 11-win season.



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