EAGAN, Minn. – Week 10 is shaping up to have quite a few showdowns in the NFC, as six of the nine teams with winning records will play each other between Sunday afternoon and Monday night.
A pair of those games are in prime time, including the Vikings clash in Dallas against the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. Kickoff is at 7:20 p.m. (CT) between the 6-3 Vikings and 5-3 Cowboys.
The Packers (7-2) host the Panthers (5-3) on Sunday, and Monday night's game is an NFC West showdown with Seattle (7-2) at undefeated San Francisco (8-0).
There will plenty of eyes on those games, as the Vikings have a chance to make a statement — both to the country and to the rest of the NFC — by getting a road win against a team that currently leads their division.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer on Wednesday acknowledged the opportunity that lies ahead for his team, but noted that Minnesota will have to follow a winning formula in order to get a victory at AT&T Stadium.
"It's an important game for us, for sure. To be able to go on the road and beat a good team, it's important," Zimmer said. "But for us to do that … we have to control the clock, not turn the ball over, be efficient with all the different things.
"There's a lot that goes into it that we have to do to beat a team like this," Zimmer added.
Zimmer isn't wrong about his formula. In five of Minnesota's six victories, the Vikings have won the time of possession battle and either have been even or won the turnover differential, too.
Minnesota had its four-game win streak come to an end Sunday in Kansas City. The Vikings are back on the road this week before a Week 11 home game against Denver.
The Vikings then have a bye followed by another tough NFC road test in Week 12 on Monday Night Football in Seattle.
While Zimmer is certainly aware of the schedule that lies ahead, he certainly isn't worried about the big picture right now.
Zimmer has always maintained that the goal is to stack as many wins together as possible, with the hope that they all equate to a playoff berth.
His stance didn't change Wednesday morning.
"We don't really look ahead to three out of four on the road or anything like that," Zimmer said. "We just look at this one game and try to figure out how we can win this particular game.
"The important thing, we don't look back other than the mistakes we made and how we move forward, and we go from there," Zimmer added. "I mean, we can look at three out of four at home at the end [of the season against NFC North foes], too. But that's not for us."
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed Wednesday:
1. Hello again, Michael Bennett | By Lindsey Young
It seems the Vikings can't escape playing against Michael Bennett.
The veteran defensive end started the 2019 season with New England but recently joined the Cowboys via trade and played his first game for Dallas on Monday night. Previously, he played against Minnesota with the Eagles and the Seahawks.
Through seven games this season, Bennett has 3.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and eight quarterback hits. Zimmer knows that Bennett brings a different dimension to an already-dynamic defensive line.
"He's always been a really good pass rusher – really active – so adding another guy like him [bolsters] it," Zimmer said. "You know, they've got good rushers anyway, so it just makes it even better."
2. Ifeadi Odenigbo stepping up | Lindsey Young
While the Cowboys added a long-established pass rusher to their team, the Vikings are seeing flashes from a young guy establishing his identity.
Over the past five games, Ifeadi Odenigbo has tallied three sacks and seven tackles for loss. He's played both on the interior and the end of the defensive line and has proven to be a threat to opposing offenses.
Odenigbo initially was a seventh-round draft pick by the Vikings in 2017 and spent that season on the practice squad. In 2018, he was waived by Minnesota and bounced to the Browns and Cardinals before re-signing with the Vikings practice squad last October.
"He kind of came on at the end of the year last year a little bit, on the practice squad we noticed it," Zimmer said. "He's a very violent rusher, plays with a lot of strength and toughness. Initially we wanted to look at him inside at nickel a little bit, and moved him to end, and we felt like it was just too much at that point in time to do, really, two jobs. So we backed him down a little bit, and now we're starting to use him in a couple different things."
4. A note on receivers | By Craig Peters
There will be plenty of speculation as to the status of Adam Thielen for Sunday night's game. The receiver worked his way back into the starting lineup at Kansas City after missing a game for the first time in his career in Week 8.
"We'll have to see how this week goes," said Zimmer, who added that Thielen "was not rushed back too soon."
Zimmer spoke in February at the NFL Scouting Combine about hamstring injuries and said they cause the second-most time lost of any injury behind a torn ACL. He also said the NFL was conducting a study on hamstring injuries.
"I just had to sit in a meeting the other day, the second-most time lost for any injury is hamstrings. For some reason, that injury takes five or six weeks. Obviously, the ACL is number one. That's the next-longest missed time. When a runner, especially these track guys, which Dalvin basically is, these guys, for them to get right, it just takes a long time, typically, so I think he had a better in the second half of the year, obviously. He struggled some early."
Each injury is of course different, and each player's recovery path is also unique. Last season the NFL average for hamstrings to players was 14.5 per team, and the Vikings dealt with 14.
Zimmer said what is learned from an MRI and player input factor into decisions.
[Vikings Vice President of Sports Medicine/Head Athletic Trainer] Eric Sugarman does an outstanding job," Zimmer said. "It's just one of those things where he got in the game, and it grabbed a little bit. But I wouldn't say it's a long-term deal."
Also within the position group, receiver Josh Doctson, was designated to return from Injured Reserve last week. Doctson joined the team after his release from Washington. He was inactive in Week 1 and suffered a hamstring injury in Week 2. He is currently in the period of evaluation that the Vikings have before making a roster move.
Zimmer was asked about why Doctson interested the Vikings and said that the team talked with his former Washington teammate, QB Kirk Cousins, about the receiver.
"Thought he understood the route combinations, I think they had a good relationship as far as on the field and the things he could do in the passing game," Zimmer said. "I guess the biggest thing, he's got good deep speed, he can get in and out of the break at the top of the route, he catches the ball well – a good leaper, good 50-50 guy."
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Cowboys.
5. Is there a weak spot? | By Craig Peters
It's not unusual for coaches to speak admirably of their upcoming opponent, but it sounds like there's plenty to like about this edition of the Dallas Cowboys.
Zimmer obviously isn't going to declare a weakness if he perceives one or more, but he rattled off the strengths that he sees:
"Good football team, No. 1 in the league in offense. Top 5 or 6 defensively, very active front, couple long corners that can run, linebackers are fast and physical," Zimmer said. "Offensively, they've got a good offensive line, good running back, quarterback is playing outstanding, good receivers. We'll have a good test for us."