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5 Vikings-Cowboys Storylines to Watch

The Vikings will play against a division leader on the road for the second consecutive week and try to bounce back from a last-second, 26-23 loss in Kansas City.

Minnesota (6-3) will visit Dallas (5-3) on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

Here are five Vikings-Cowboys storylines to watch this week:

1. Dual threats in backfields

Vikings RB Dalvin Cook is leading the NFL with 894 rushing yards and ranks second in the NFL with 1,232 yards from scrimmage this season. The third-year pro also ranks second with nine rushing touchdowns on the year. His counterpart, Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott, is sixth in rushing yards (741), eighth in yards from scrimmage (917) and is tied for fifth with six scores on the ground. Cook, who is averaging 99.3 rushing yards per game this season, has a shot at becoming the first Vikings player with 1,000 rushing yards since Adrian Peterson led the NFL in rushing with 1,485 yards in 2015. Elliott has already won two rushing titles (with 1,631 yards as a rookie in 2016 and 1,434 last season). He also has a career average of 99.8 rushing yards per game through 48 career contests. Minnesota has only allowed two touchdowns on the ground this season and ranks ninth with 95.8 rushing yards allowed per game. The Cowboys on Monday bottlenecked Saquon Barkley to a snarl limiting him to a career-low in a game in which he’s played at least 25 snaps (28 yards on 14 carries).

2. Another explosive offense

Dallas is entering Week 10 leading the NFL in yards per game (436.8), play (6.69) and pass play (8.42). The Cowboys have four players with a long reception of at least 42 yards. Amari Cooper’s past two receiving touchdowns have gone for 53 and 45 yards. He leads the Cowboys with six scores and 701 yards on 42 receptions for an average of 16.7 yards per catch. Throw in other weapons and the threat that Dak Prescott’s mobility poses — he is averaging 6.5 yards per carry with a long of 42 — and it will be another stiff test for a Vikings defense that gave up three receptions of 30-plus yards to Tyreek Hill and a 91-yard touchdown run by Damien Williams against a fast Chiefs offense that entered last week’s game averaging 6.57 yards per play. The Vikings entered Week 9 with an average of 6.43 yards per play that ranked third, but dropped to fourth (6.23) this week. Prescott is averaging 8.7 yards per completion (third in the NFL), which is just under Kirk Cousins (8.8) and Patrick Mahomes (9.0).

3. Reunion tour

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is heading back to where he got his start in the NFL in 1994 as defensive backs coach of the Cowboys. Zimmer was with Dallas through 2006, becoming the Cowboys defensive coordinator in 2000. The sixth-year head coach missed out on the opportunity to work the sideline against Dallas when the Cowboys visited Minnesota on Dec. 1, 2016, because of emergency eye surgery. Zimmer will have an opportunity to match wits against an offense-oriented adversary for the eighth time in 10 games this season. Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett’s tenure is the sixth-longest among active head coaches. He started on an interim basis in 2010, going 5-3 in leading the team that he played seven seasons for as a backup QB (1993-99). Does anything that Garrett saw running the scout team look familiar to what Zimmer is doing with the Vikings?

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

4. Intertwined franchises meet on big stage

The whole “pro football in Texas experiment” seems to have worked out pretty well — and in Minnesota for that matter. The NFL granted the franchises to Dallas and Minnesota in January of 1960. The Cowboys began play that fall, and the Vikings in 1961, beginning with an August preseason contest against Dallas in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Incidentally, the Chiefs made their start in 1960 as the Dallas Texans of the upstart American Football League. Even though the Texans won the AFL title in 1962, founder Lamar Hunt opted to relocate from his native state to Kansas City. The Cowboys didn’t post their first winning season until 1966 but began a run of making the playoffs eight consecutive seasons. Football fans in the Lone Star State developed a weekend appetite for high school, college and pro football akin to brisket, ribs and sausage on a metal tray. In the 1970s, beginning with Super Bowl IV between the Vikings and Chiefs to cap the 1969 season on Jan. 11, 1970, and going through Super Bowl XIII on Jan. 21, 1979 (Steelers defeated Cowboys), either the Vikings or Cowboys participated in the championship nine of 10 times. Fast-forward to now, and both teams have marquee home venues that fans fill with fervor, and a gigantic audience is expected to tune-in on Sunday night.

5. Thielen watch 2.0

Vikings receiver Adam Thielen made his way back into the starting lineup last week after missing Minnesota’s Week 8 game because of a hamstring injury he suffered in Detroit during Week 7. Thielen was targeted on the second play of the game, but the ball was off the mark. The receiver played seven of Minnesota’s offensive snaps before he was sidelined for the rest of the day. Unlike in Week 7 when multiple people were able to make significant contributions on the fly, or Week 8 when the Vikings built a game plan without Thielen, Minnesota lacked in its execution and suffered from third-and-longs. Will Thielen be able to make it back this week, or will the Vikings opt to give his hamstring more time? The first injury report of the week will be out later today.

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