1. Cousins faces up to pressure
Kirk Cousins was pressured on eight of his 22 first-half dropbacks (36.3%), but he managed to complete passes on five of them for 53 yards and a couple of first downs to Dalvin Cook as the Vikings took a 17-14 lead en route to a 28-24 win over the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Cook caught four of the first-half passes in which Cousins was under duress, of which Cousins ended up being knocked down three times. Cook produced 49 yards, including gains of 12 and 27 yards on the five-play, 53-yard first-drive touchdown. Cousins was knocked down on the 12-yard completion. On other first-half pressures, he threw the ball away once, took a 9-yard sack on third down and had his arm hit as he was throwing incomplete on third down. He completed a 4-yard pass to Irv Smith Jr. while facing pressure on a three-step drop.
2. Vikings corral Elliott in first half
The Vikings got off to a good start against two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys’ league-best offensive line. Scratch that. The Vikings got off to a great start in that regard considering they were missing giant nose tackle and run-stopping tone setter Linval Joseph. In the first half, Elliott had 12 carries for 37 yards, none longer than 6 yards. That’s an average of 3.1 yards per carry, which is 1.6 below his season average. On those carries, the Vikings made first contact with Elliott behind the line of scrimmage twice, at the line of scrimmage four times and within a yard downfield four times. Shamar Stephen had a 2-yard tackle for loss on Elliott. The farthest Elliott got downfield before being hit in the first half was 3 yards. He gained 6 on the play.
3. Diggs needs to catch that ball
Stefon Diggs had caught three balls for 49 yards and converted third-and-5, third-and-3 and third-and-7 when the Vikings faced third-and-goal from the 9 early in the third quarter. And the third-and-3 conversion was such a spectacular 27-yard grab that it came with a booth review and an overturned call of incomplete pass. That set up Dan Bailey’s 27-yard field goal and a 17-14 lead as the first half ended. So, in other words, it’s hard to knock Diggs for what happened on that third-and-goal play at the Dallas 9. But if he wants to consider himself an elite receiver, Diggs can’t drop that ball in the end zone. Yes, Cousins had to rifle it to him harder than usual. But he had to get the ball past tight coverage. It’s up to Diggs to make that grab when it hits him in the hands. The Vikings had to settle for another short Bailey field goal.
4. Bailey’s bar too high for Maher
Bailey was released in Big D before last season in favor of big-legged Nebraska rookie Brett Maher. So far, Maher hasn’t lived up to Bailey’s 88.2% field-goal success rate in seven seasons with the Cowboys. Maher made 80.6% last year and went into Sunday night’s game at 72.2% (13 of 18), good for 24th in the league. He missed from 57 yards on the Cowboys’ first possession. Meanwhile, Bailey came in ranked ninth in the league at 86.7% (13 of 15). He’s one-tenth ahead of his career average and has his best percentage since leading the league at 93.8 in 2015. Bailey made a 26-yarder to give the Vikings a 17-14 lead as time expired in the first half. At one point in his Cowboys career, Bailey was the NFL’s career leader in field-goal percentage.
5. First-drive balance pays off
Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski went back to a more balanced opening script as the Vikings scored a first-drive touchdown for the fourth time in 10 games and for the first time on the road. After opening with three incompletions and a punt at Kansas City, the Vikings’ first drive Sunday went 53 yards in five plays. Cook had two runs and two catches for 47 while Kyle Rudolph caught a 1-yard touchdown catch. The Vikings’ 10 first-drive possessions this year have produced four touchdown passes and a field goal. In those possessions, the Vikings ran 27 times for 88 yards (3.3) and attempted 34 passes. Cousins was sacked once and completed 25 of 33 (75.8) for 339 yards (10.3 per attempt) and four touchdowns, three of them to Adam Thielen, who didn’t play Sunday. Cook has had 26 first-drive touches for 156 yards (6.0) and nine first downs.