On the morning of Jan. 28, 1960, NFL owners met and selected the Dallas Cowboys as the league’s 13th NFL franchise. The Cowboys would begin play that fall.
After a break and some arm-twisting, the owners that night awarded Minneapolis with the league’s 14th franchise. This new team, which had yet to be named, would begin play in the fall of 1961.
By Aug. 5, 1961, they were the Vikings. They had players, and they were set for their first exhibition game. They would play the Cowboys at Howard Wood Field in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Cowboys won 38-13 as only 4,954 people sat and watched.
Are you kidding?
A lot of history between the two teams has come and gone as they’ve met 29 times during the regular season and post-season, with Dallas winning 15 times heading into tonight’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
But never before in Cowboys history has a Dallas team won 10 consecutive games in a season. They’ll go for No. 11 tonight as the Vikings try to turn around a 1-5 slide, probably without coach Mike Zimmer, whose status for the game is uncertain after emergency eye surgery Wednesday night.
Overview: Only eight teams — a quarter of the league — have won put together two wins in a row. The Cowboys have won 10 straight since a 20-19 season-opening loss to the Giants at home. The league’s next-longest winning streak is six games by the Giants and Dolphins. Oakland has won five straight. During their streak, the Cowboys are 5-0 at home and 5-0 on the road. On the road, they’ve beaten the Packers by two touchdowns and scored 35 points twice, including the trip to Pittsburgh. This is a long way of saying the Vikings got their hands full tonight.
To the tape: …
Top thoughts while watching tape of the Cowboys’ 31-26 win over Washington at home on Thanksgiving Day:
—Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott won his 10th consecutive game, joining Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (13) as the only rookies in league history to win 10 or more in a row. But let’s not assume this gifted fourth-round draft pick would be doing all of this anywhere but behind the best offensive line the league has seen in years, if not going all the back to the 1990s and Dallas’ run of three Super Bowls in four years. When Zimmer was trying to describe the level of good that Dallas has assembled up front, he used the word “very” three times. That’s a good starting point for these guys.
—I could go on and on about this offensive line. In fact, I did a couple weeks back. All five of Dallas’ starters have spent their entire careers with the Cowboys. Four are under 28. Three of them are first-round picks since 2011. And they’ve maintained their health and continuity this season. I could pick dozens of plays to highlight this immense strength up front, but here’s the third play of the game: League rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott, a rookie as you know, takes a simple handoff to the right side. Center Travis Frederick mauls the nose tackle with a single block. Right tackle Doug Free does the same to his guy while blocking down. Both guards — Ronald Leary on the left and Zack Martin on the right — pull. Martin kicks out the edge defender, Leary leads through the hole and crushes the safety downfield while tight end Jason Witten — an underrated blocker — walls off the middle linebacker. Elliott runs through the gash for 12 yards, establishing a tone one play after a 20-yard run up the middle. Textbook execution.
—Looking at that play solidifies my belief that NT Linval Joseph is the first key domino in the Vikings having a chance to win tonight’s game. If Frederick can block Joseph one-on-one, the Vikings’ run defense crumbles from the nose on back. And if the Vikings miss tackles against this group? Look for Dallas to top 200 yards rushing.
—Prescott is like a more thickly-built RG III, when RG III took the league by storm as rookie of the year. He’s got the mobility and the arm strength, but, unlike, RG III, he also has the sturdiness to win collisions and keep going, while the defender ends up on the ground. After Elliott’s 12-yard run, Prescott breaks contain, rolls right and fires a bullet to Cole Beasley for 13 yards along the sideline.
—This offense isn’t just Dak, Dez, Ezekiel and a great line. Beasley is a Wes Welker clone who has 58 catches, the most of any NFL player this season who wasn’t drafted. Also, don’t go to sleep on Lucky Whitehead. The first play of the Washington game was a 15-yard jet sweep by Lucky.
—The defense is average, at best, but it’s only on the field for a league-low 27 minutes, 10 seconds. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is a Cover-2 loyalist with a few wrinkles here and there. That means he’s conservative, which has worked well with the type of offense the Cowboys have. Marinelli plays with the lead quite a bit, but his defense is vulnerable, ranking 21st in total defense after giving up 505 yards to Washington, and 31st in pass defense after allowing Kirk Cousins to pass for 449 yards and three touchdowns on 41 completions.
—Cousins did most of his damage on Washington’s last three possessions, completing 20 of 22 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns during a 20-point fourth quarter. But the Cowboys also started slow. The Redskins went with a hurry-up attack that netted first downs on the first two plays and three of the first four. Later, with Marinelli playing two-deep with man coverage underneath and a four-man rush, the Redskins easily isolated tight end Jordan Reed on a linebacker for a wide-open pitch and catch for 12 yards on third-and-6.
—The Cowboys rank 28th in sacks and didn’t create much pressure on Cousins. But it’s too early to suggest that will be the case tonight. The Redskins might have the second-best offensive line in football right now.
—The Cowboys have some injuries they’re dealing with defensively. Cornerback Morris Claiborne, safety J.J. Wilcox and linebacker Justin Durant have been ruled out. Durant showed some playmaking ability in open space in the nickel defense against Washington, stopping shifty slot receiver Jeremiah Crowder short of a first down on third-and-long. But he also got beat for 38 yards on a crossing route by Crowder in the second half.
—One play after that 38-yarder, there wasn’t a Cowboys defender within seven yards of Vernon Davis when he caught a 22-yard pass. The Vikings have to be thinking they can get some productivity out of tight end Kyle Rudolph tonight.
—A lot of young quarterbacks almost appear to be literally holding their breath in the pocket. They hurry, bounce, twitch and take off. Prescott can take off, but he looks to be breathing comfortably in the pocket. Of course, it helps that he knows he has more time to throw than any quarterback in the league. There were two plays sandwiched around a second-quarter sack that showed what happens when a quarterback, even a young one, knows he has time to throw. Prescott had ridiculous time to hit Dez Bryant’s fingertips in tight coverage for 14 yards. After the sack, he hit a well-covered Beasley for 18 yards along the sideline.
—When Dak does run, look out. Late in the first half, he broke a tackle attempt by a defensive end two yards behind the line of scrimmage, took off, stiff-armed a safety to the ground eight yards downfield and ran for another 10 yards.
—Unlike Vikings running backs, Elliott rarely gets touched behind the line of scrimmage. On one second-and-1 dive, he could have almost trotted through the hole and gotten the nine yards he gained.
—The Vikings better have someone who can spy Prescott. On a first-and-goal at the 6, the Cowboys ran a misdirection bootleg. Everybody but Prescott and Witten went to the left. That left a Redskins safety alone on the right side. He had to choose between covering Witten in the end zone or coming up to tackle Prescott. He chose Witten while Prescott ran the ball in for a touchdown.
Key stat: 86.2
The difference in average yards per game between the Cowboys’ second-ranked running game (157.3) and the Vikings’ 32nd-ranked running game (71.1). Granted, the Vikings essentially have replaced their ineffective running game with a short passing attack. But Dallas averages 4.8 yards per carry, good for third in the league, while the Vikings average a league-worst 2.8.