EAGAN, Minn. – Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer wasted no time Monday afternoon getting to the point of why he thought his team came away with a gritty 28-24 win over the Cowboys on Sunday night.
"I really thought both sides of the ball — our offensive line and defensive line — played outstanding," Zimmer said. "[They] played with a lot of toughness, a lot of physicality, a lot of grit."
The Vikings offensive line did its part to help a rushing attack tally 153 total yards on the ground. Minnesota ranks third in the NFL with exactly 153.0 rushing yards per game, as the Vikings have gained 1,530 yards on 326 rushes (4.7 yards per carry) in 10 games.
Zimmer said he liked the improvement from the previous game against Kansas City.
"Obviously, it was better," Zimmer said of the ground game. "We finished runs better, we finished blocks better."
Minnesota also allowed just one sack against a Cowboys team that was averaging 2.75 sacks per game entering Week 10.
And Minnesota's defensive line played well, even without starting defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who missed the game with a knee injury.
Jaleel Johnson made his second-career start and earned plenty of praise from Zimmer.
"Played really well," Zimmer said. "First play of the game he tried to maybe come off a block a little bit too soon on the first run, but then after that, he was really good. I thought he played hard, played good. He pushed the pocket a couple times. I thought he did well.
"He's got strong hands," Zimmer added. "He's got kind of a lower center of gravity which helps him to sit down on the double teams. He's a guy that's going to go fight every play."
Rookie Armon Watts also made his presence felt in his first pro game. He split a sack with Everson Griffen and was credited by press box statisticians with three tackles on just seven defensive snaps.
"He got a half-sack and a tackle and he had like six or nine plays or something like that," Zimmer said. "He played pretty darn good, really. He played pretty good for his first time out. Played the scheme how we're trying to get him to do it and did well."
The Vikings bottled up Ezekiel Elliott, as the Cowboys running back had just 47 yards on 20 carries. His average of 2.35 yards per carry was his second-lowest mark of the season.
Johnson led interior linemen with 43 defensive snaps, while Shamar Stephen played 41. Jalyn Holmes played nine.
Defensive ends Stephen Weatherly and Ifeadi Odenigbo, who each played 21 snaps, also saw some time as interior linemen in certain packages.
View the Vikings in "Big Head Mode" following the 28-24 victory over the Cowboys in Week 10 for Sunday Night Football in Dallas.
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed Monday:
1. Some good, some bad in the secondary
The Vikings allowed a season-high 393 net passing yards Sunday to Dak Prescott, a stat Zimmer attributed to a few factors.
First, he noted that second-year cornerback Mike Hughes had an up-and-down game.
"There's some things he can do better," Zimmer said. "There's some things he did good."
Zimmer also gave plenty of credit to Dallas' playmakers.
"Yeah, honestly, there were times he wasn't tight enough [in coverage]," Zimmer said. ". There's some times, technique-wise, that he could have been better. He opened up a little bit too much and let the receiver run, but he was in position most of the night.
"Honestly, [Amari Cooper] made a bunch of great catches, and they made some really good throws," Zimmer added. "So, when I looked at the pass defense, there was a couple things that weren't very good, but for the most part, we were in the right place. They made the plays, and we didn't."
Hughes nearly had an interception, as did Mackensie Alexander. Zimmer said he counted another chance where Alexander could have had a takeaway.
"We said we had three, could have, should have, would have had. I guess Mike had a good chance at one. Mackensie probably had two chances, too."
Zimmer said he liked what he saw from starting cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
"Xavier played pretty good. Yeah, he played pretty good last night," Zimmer said. "Had one catch on the sideline he gave up and he missed a tackle on a tight end and he, trying to think if there was something else, but for the most part he covered his guys pretty good.
"One of his, I think, better games," Zimmer added.
2. Cousins making good decisions
The Vikings have won five of their past six games, and Kirk Cousins is a big reason why.
Cousins has completed 133 of 186 passes (71.5 percent) in the timespan for 1,701 total yards. He has thrown 15 touchdowns to just one interception, and has a passer rating of 124.4 during this stretch.
"He's playing fast, and that's probably the most important thing," Zimmer said. "Making good decisions and playing fast."
That includes getting the ball out quickly, as Cousins has taken just nine sacks in the past six games. He was sacked three times apiece against New York and Washington, but just twice in three combined wins against the Eagles, Lions and Cowboys.
Zimmer explained how Cousins, who has zero turnovers in his past four games, is helping out his offensive line at times.
"There was a lot of times that he did a great job of getting the ball out, too," Zimmer said. "He got hit quite a few times last night. I'm not calling out the offensive line. He got hit a bunch of times last night, and there was times that he had to get the ball out quick, and I thought he did that well.
"In each part of the passing game, you've got some maximum protection things, you've got some seven-man protections, some six-man and some five-man protections," Zimmer said. "It's important that when you get these fives and six-mans and you're getting extra pressure, to get the ball out, like they did a lot last night."
3. Mattison rumbles forward
Don't look now, but rookie Alexander Mattison actually has a higher yards-per-carry average than Dalvin Cook.
Mattison has 389 yards on 79 carries (4.92), while Cook has a league-leading 991 yards on 203 carries (4.88).
Cook will continue to get the majority of the carries, but Mattison has shown he can be highly effective with his touches. Against Dallas, he had 52 yards on just eight rushes (6.5 yards per carry).
"He is a good player. He runs hard, he's physical," Zimmer said of Mattison. "I think he averaged six-something (yards per carry), maybe, last night.
"But yeah, he's a good back, and we're glad we have him. He can take some of the carries off of Dalvin," Zimmer added. "I liked the way he finishes runs. He seems like he's always falling forward, and is an aggressive style of runner.
Mattison was a third-round pick out of Boise State.
"He was a good player in college, but you don't really know," Zimmer said. "But I think his ability to hit the hole, and then the violence that he runs with – there was 6-yard run on our sideline that was a heck of a run [Sunday] night. He doesn't go down easy and doesn't go out of bounds."
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.
4. An update on Thielen, Joseph and Waynes
Zimmer also gave an update on the status of three starters — Adam Thielen, Joseph and Trae Waynes — who all missed Sunday's game.
Zimmer was asked if he had any indication the Vikings would have Thielen back against the Broncos. Thielen did not play against Dallas due to a hamstring injury.
"Not yet, I don't," Zimmer said.
Zimmer also said he wasn't sure if Joseph's knee injury will be a long-term thing.
"I don't know yet," Zimmer said. "Could be back this week. We'll see."
Zimmer also noted he expects to get Waynes, who had an ankle injury, back this week.
"Yeah, I think we will," Zimmer said.