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Opposing Viewpoint: 5 Questions (and Answers) About Cowboys

The Vikings will look to extend their three-game win streak on Sunday when they host the Cowboys. Kickoff is at 3:25 p.m. (CT) from U.S. Bank Stadium.

Minnesota is 4-5 with seven games left, and the team is turning things around in part to the steady hand of Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.

Offensively, Kirk Cousins and his teammates are hitting their stride, while young cornerbacks Jeff Gladney and Kris Boyd have brought a Texas-brand of toughness to the secondary.

But what are some key storylines from the other side?

To find that out, chatted with Cowboys reporter David Helman for a glance at what Dallas is thinking before Sunday's game.

Here is the Week 10 edition of Opposing Viewpoint:

Dallas sits at 2-7 on the season, a disappointing record for a team that had high hopes and playoff aspirations a few months ago. The Cowboys have been absolutely ravaged by injuries through nine games, but which one has been the toughest to overcome? Dak Prescott might be the obvious answer, but is there another one that stands out?

DH: 'Disappointing' is a mild way of putting it. You could call it a nightmare if you wanted to, from what this team was hoping to accomplish to where they are right now. Dak Prescott is the obvious one, he was just playing at an insane level. It's very obvious, now that he's gone, just how much work he was doing.

But he's definitely not the only one … the list goes on and on. La'el Collins is a Pro-Bowl caliber right tackle, and he didn't play a single snap for this team. It was obvious in training camp that he was probably going to spend most of the year on Injured Reserve.

And then Tyron Smith, who is the Hall-of-Fame caliber left tackle … they got two games out of him. So not only do you not have your quarterback, but you also don't have the anchors of your offensive line either. If you're not going to have Dak, you'd at least like to have that protection for Andy Dalton and the other quarterbacks that have played. Dak is the big one, but not having the strength of their offensive line has been a real problem for the Cowboys.

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Cowboys.

The Vikings know Cowboys Head Coach Mike McCarthy well, as Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer went 5-4-1 in 10 games against McCarthy's Packers from 2014-2018. How has McCarthy implemented his own culture on the Cowboys in 2020?

DH: I don't know that he's really been able to. When you talk about a culture, you talk about the offseason and spending time together and building ties. The Cowboys are one of the few teams that still go away for training camp but didn't get to do that this year.

I don't know if it's taken root, but maybe it's starting to happen now. The last two games have been much more competitive and much more entertaining than the month before. I'm interested to see this Vikings game to see if they can continue to build off that.

Maybe we're watching the culture take shape in front of us, although it's a little late in the season for that. But it's just one of the byproducts of COVID-19, and I don't think Mike McCarthy has come close to being able to put the fingerprint on this team that he wanted at the start of the year.

A pair of the league's top rookie wide receivers will take the field Sunday. CeeDee Lamb looks like a star … what's been his biggest strength so far? And how are the Cowboys planning on defending Justin Jefferson, who also could be in the running for the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year Award?

DH: I feel terrible for CeeDee Lamb. When you think about his career to this point, the guy got to play with Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts [at Oklahoma]. And then he goes straight to playing with Prescott, so the guy's been playing with all-stars for his big-time football career.

Now he's almost kind of become an afterthought, through no fault of his own. The Cowboys haven't had good quarterback play, the offensive line hasn't been able to protect the quarterback enough to throw the ball. CeeDee was on a historic pace when Dak was healthy, but his season has kind of fallen by the wayside.

CeeDee started out so strong, but it's almost like Jefferson kind of took the baton as the hotshot rookie this season. That's been fun to watch as an LSU alum.

But it's going to be a fun matchup Sunday. Trevon Diggs broke his foot and isn't going to play. Chidobe Awuzie, who's kind of the veteran of this group, has been out with a hamstring injury for six weeks and his first game back will be Sunday. Welcome back to the league, buddy, you've got to go cover the hottest rookie wide receiver in the league. That's going to be an interesting matchup, and we'll find out quickly how good his hamstring feels … if he's not 100 percent, then Jefferson could have himself a nice day.

View photos of Vikings players from the 2019 Primetime Purple game. The team will be wearing Primetime Purple uniforms for the Week 11 Dallas Cowboys matchup.

It's been a rough season for the Dallas defense, which ranks last in the league with 32.2 points allowed per game. Why has that unit struggled so much in 2020? And who's a player the team is counting upon to help turn the tide in the final seven games?

DH: It's just been a nightmare year for the Dallas defense. You can probably point to injuries. They signed [defensive tackle] Gerald McCoy in the offseason but didn't get a single snap out of him since he tore his quad in training camp.

So they've had some injuries, but at the same time, that doesn't do justice to what we've seen. This is a team that was allowing 35 points per game for a solid month. They let the Browns rip off 307 rushing yards back in October.

It's been a combination of injuries and the front office probably didn't do a good job of evaluating free-agent talent this past spring. Then it's taken these guys a long time to adjust to Mike Nolan's scheme. They played really well against Pittsburgh, and I'm interested to see it again against Dalvin Cook. That will be a huge challenge.

For someone to pick it up, DeMarcus Lawrence is the obvious one. Anytime you have a $100 million defensive end on your roster, you look to him to spark things.

Then the Cowboys linebackers — Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. If the defense is going to be better, those two linebackers are going to need to play great over these last seven weeks.

Finally … a question about the NFC East. The Cowboys are somehow within striking distance of the Eagles, who are 3-5-1. What makes you think Dallas has a chance to get hot and find a way to be a playoff team in 2020?

DH: You can't rule it out. Some Cowboys fans kind of scoff at that because it's been really ugly for about six weeks.

But it's a terrible division, there's no way around it. I think this Vikings game will be a really great litmus test for just how good this team can be. I think the Vikings are similar … disappointing season compared to what they were expecting, sitting on a losing record … but the playoffs are still in reach.

Dallas gets Andy Dalton back, so the quarterback play should be better than the past couple weeks. I'm not saying the Cowboys are going to win, but if they want to win the NFC East, they should at least be competitive in this one. They should be capable of either beating Minnesota, or at least pushing Minnesota to the brink. If they can do that, that gives me some confidence.

They still get to play all three of their NFC East rivals down the stretch. If they can beat Minnesota, they should be good enough to beat Philadelphia, New York and Washington. How they play on Sunday is going to tell us a lot on if they can stay in the race for the next month, or if they drop out.