Good, Bad, Ugly: Penalties, early pass defense can’t mar Cowboys’ gutshot straight

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The deck was stacked against the Dallas Cowboys, who went into U.S. Bank Stadium short-handed to play the Minnesota Vikings without starting quarterback Dak Prescott. There wasn’t any flinch in these Cowboys though, as they walked away with an exhilarating 20-16 win with backup quarterback Cooper Rush pulling a couple of aces out from his sleeve in the second half.

It wasn’t a perfect game, but when a team wins without their MVP candidate, on the road, it certainly can feel like, borrowing a poker term, hitting a gutshot straight on the river. With no franchise QB, losing their franchise left tackle and a banged up wide receiver, the implied odds weren’t the best. Didn’t matter. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly for the Cowboys in their last-minute victory over the Vikings in Week 8.

The Good: Rush and the play calling

(AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

The Cowboys publicly expressed confidence in Rush all week if Prescott couldn’t play, and that wasn’t lip service. Rush played well and the game plan didn’t hide from his inexperience. Instead of going into conservative mode with an onslaught of run calls, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore stayed aggressive and Rush tossed the ball 40 times, throwing for 325 yards, two scores.

Rush did throw an interception, but there was no panic as the offense stayed the course and executed on many of the intermediate throws to the sidelines to keep the chains moving. It wasn’t the conservative game plan many might expect when the backup QB is forced into action and Rush was up to the challenge.

The Bad: The opening defense

The defense needed to play a big role if the Cowboys were going to beat the Vikings and it wasn’t looking good early. On the first drive of the game, Dallas gave up a seven-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a touchdown on miscommunication in the secondary.

First, there was tight end Tyler Conklin getting past safety Jayron Kearse down the right sideline for a 31-yard gain.

Then it was Trevon Diggs getting burned by WR Justin Jefferson leading to a DPI call, followed by Diggs biting hard on a play-action pass to Adam Thielen for a 20-yard score. Anthony Brown got toasted on the next drive by a Jefferson double-move but Dallas escaped more harm thanks to a Kirk Cousins overthrow.

It was far too easy early for the Vikings and it appeared as though the Cowboys weren’t ready to play after a week off.

The Good: The defense thereafter

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Rush will headline the win, but the defense deserves their praise for how they responded. Dan Quinn’s unit didn’t give up another touchdown after the initial drive and limited the weapons on the Vikings to mediocre outputs.

The Cowboys held star running back Dalvin Cook to 78 yards on the ground, gave up only two catches for 21 yards to wide receiver Justin Jefferson and allowed just 184 yards passing to quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Dallas’ defense also got huge stops when they needed them. The unit held the Vikings to 1 for 13 on third-down conversions and gave up no points off the offenses two turnovers, both of which gave the Vikings the ball near midfield. The defense’s ability to hold the Vikings to a field goal on the penalty riddled drive was huge, it allowed the Cowboys to win the game on offense.

The Bad: Greg Zuerlein

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

There was another miss from Zuerlein that could’ve been a costly kick. Zuerlein missed on a 43-yard field goal early in the game, which could’ve put the Cowboys seriously behind the eight ball if the defense didn’t bail him out.

The Cowboys need to be able to count on Zuerlein to make kicks inside 50-yards and he almost let the team down.

The Good: Micah Parsons

The rookie linebacker had one of his best games in the win over the Vikings. Parsons was all over the field as he was credited with 11 total tackles, four tackles for a loss, and a quarterback hit.

The short passing game of the Vikings was dismantled by Parsons’ ability to read the play and make open field tackles.

The Ugly: Penalties

It’s a recurring theme with the Cowboys, who had too many penalties in Week 8. The defense committed three questionable penalties on what could have been the game-losing drive late in the fourth quarter and they need to play smarter. Some of the calls were suspect, but Dallas cannot keep putting themselves in those positions to get those penalties called.

Defensive end Bradlee Anae also cost the Cowboys three points when he jumped offsides on a punt that allowed the Vikings to continue a drive and get three points.

Getting penalized 11 times for 96 yards is not smart football and Dallas won’t always find a way to win these games when they keep getting flagged.

The Good: Clutch performance

There were moments where the Cowboys made it difficult on themselves, but they play the big plays in the biggest moments of the game.

Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson’s catch and run for a 73-yard score to start the second half opened up the offense a bit and fellow wide out Amari Cooper’s juggling 33-yard catch on the game-winning drive was a huge play.

However, the play of the game belonged to running back Ezekiel Elliott, who didn’t have his best game on the ground. On third-and-11, Elliott took the dump off, split two defenders closing in, twice, and fought for 15-yard gain to set the Cowboys up inside the five-yard line, and eventually the winning touchdown.

The Cooper-to-Cooper score doesn’t happen if Elliott doesn’t find a way to get the first down and the outcome might have been different. The Cowboys made the big plays when they needed them, that’s how they won the game.

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