The Vikings will host the Dallas Cowboys tonight at U.S. Bank Stadium in a prime time matchup that features one of the best teams in the League and a Vikings squad looking to bounce back from a Thanksgiving Day loss to Detroit. The Cowboys are also coming off a Thanksgiving Day game – a victory over the Washington Redskins. Here are a few final thoughts on tonight's matchup.
Mike Zimmer's health
Tonight's game is a big one for the Vikings and it will have the attention of the entire League. It's Thursday Night Football, both teams are wearing their Color Rush uniforms and the game will be streamed on Twitter. All of that pales in comparison, though, to the health of Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who underwent emergency surgery on his eye on Wednesday night and will not be coaching in tonight's game.
Priefer is well-prepared
It will be special teams coordinator Mike Priefer who handles the interim head coaching role while Zimmer is unavailable to coach. Vikings GM Rick Spielman made that announcement on Thursday morning in a conference call with reporters, saying the organization has confidence in Priefer to handle the role. Spielman also said defensive coordinator George Edwards will lead the defense and Pat Shurmur will lead the offense. The Denver Broncos faced a similar situation earlier in the season and they also tapped on their special teams coordinator to handle the head coaching role on game day. It is also worth noting that Priefer has been with the Vikings since 2011 and has a broad and thorough understanding of the personnel.
View images of the Dallas Cowboys (10-1) key contributors of offense, defense and special teams heading into Thursday Night's matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.
When you're playing a team with a 10-1 record, there are a lot of important matchups. Three of them in this game are: Vikings DL vs. Cowboys OL; Zimmer's defense vs. Ezekiel Elliott; and Xavier Rhodes vs. Dez Bryant. Whichever team wins two of these three matchups will have a big advantage in the game tonight.
TD records within reach for Patterson, Rudolph
A couple of Vikings – Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph – have team touchdown records within their grasp. Patterson tied Percy Harvin for the team record in kickoff return touchdowns two weeks ago when he took one back 104 yards against the Cardinals. His next one will be a new team record. Rudolph is currently one touchdown reception behind Steve Jordan for most in team history by a tight end (28). Dallas permitted two touchdown catches to Redskins TE Jordan Reed last week.
Two gaudy stats that favor the Vikings
The superlatives that Dallas has accumulated over the first 11 games of the season are overwhelming. They've been the class of the NFL, having not lost since they dropped their Week 1 game. But there are two important statistics in which the Vikings are the team in this matchup with the gaudy numbers – sacks and takeaways. The Vikings are tied for seventh in sacks with 28, while the Cowboys rank tied for 25th with 20. Also, Vikings defensive ends have combined for 18.5, which is the second-highest total in the NFL for that position group. The Vikings are also the only team in the NFL to have three defensive ends with 5.0 sacks on the season (Danielle Hunter – 7.5; Everson Griffen – 6.0; Brian Robison – 5.0). As for takeaways, the Vikings have 20 (12INTs, 8 fumble recoveries) on the season, which is tied for third in the NFL and has aided them in authoring a 12 turnover margin second-best in the League. Dallas is tied for 27th with 10 takeaways (6 fumble recoveries, 4 INTs). The discrepancy in these two key statistics must be exploited by the Vikings tonight if they are to pull off the upset at home.
Vikings have 10 days final quarter of season begins
Win or lose tonight, the Vikings will be in the hunt in the NFC playoff picture with four regular season games remaining on their schedule. For all the scheduling quirks that have worked against the Vikings this season, one positive for them from this point forward is they have 10 days to get ready for the season's final stretch of games. The Vikings will hit the road next week to play the Jaguars, then they host the Colts in Week 15, travel to Green Bay in Week 16 and host the Bears to close the season. If the Vikings have the same success in the final quarter of the season that they had in the first quarter of it (4-0), they'll stand at either 10 or 11 wins (depending on tonight's result) and stand on solid ground in the NFC. There is a lot of football yet to be played in 2016.