Sunday Night NFL Picks — Vikings May Need Another Reciever vs. Cowboys

By Charles Jay

I spent some time this weekend considering how I really thought of Kirk Cousins as a quarterback. And really, the conclusion is that I think he is very much a symbol of what the NFL has evolved into.

What I mean is that he’s a creature of the West Coast offense, without a real big arm, but accurate at throwing those short and intermediate-range passes, able to ring up some nice numbers. But no team he’s been with has gone all that far. Meanwhile, he was in the right place at the right time and took advantage of the right market to get a monster contract.

Mike Shanahan was a huge fan of his, and it was probably his feeling that Cousins should have been the “quarterback of the future” in Washington and not Robert Griffin III that led to friction with ownership, which was very much in Griffin’s corner, and Shanahan’s eventual ouster.

Shanahan liked him so much because he was apparently the ideal “by the numbers” QB for the West Coast attack. He could do those things that were based strictly on timing, but when you had him improvise too much you’d find trouble.

And that’s what I think the Dallas Cowboys can try to do with him as they face the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football, televised by NBC from AT&T Stadium at 8:20 PM ET.

As we continue with WagerWAR, the battle for the World WagerSport Ultimate Championship, here are the numbers I’m using:

Dallas Cowboys -3 (-125)
Minnesota Vikings +3 (+105)

Over 48 points -110
Under 48 points -110

Both of these teams kind of look alike, when you think about it: they build the offense around the running game, and they have great backs to do it with. Dalvin Cook is 106 yards away from 1000, and Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer knew that he could have a real ground attack if he was healthy. He took great pains to get that done, and even brought in Gary Kubiak, the former Shanahan assistant, to work as an adviser to the offense, instituting the concept of zone blocking. The Vikings will run the ball at least half the time, if they follow the pattern they have set.

And the Cowboys need to get something of great value from Ezekiel Elliott to make the offense work the right way. Elliott, as you have probably heard, has a career per-game rushing average that is third only to Jim Brown and Barry Sanders. And 27% of the runs he’s made have gone for first downs. He makes Dak Prescott more effective, and Prescott has put it down the field a lot more, averaging pretty close to nine yards an attempt.

Dallas is doing some thing different on offense this year under Kellen Moore, the former backup QB who is now the offensive coordinator. And things downfield appear to have opened up with the very effective pair of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. And guess what? Jason Witten didn’t come out of retirement just to be an honorary pass-catcher.

I think Dallas will find some success in stopping the run first and then sending a lot of pressure to Cousins on passing downs. He has never reacted all that well to pressure, and he is missing the guy who could bail him out of a lot of jams. Adam Thielen, who had 113 catches last year, is the guy they use to extend drives, and he serves as a short outlet. But he’s out with a hamstring injury, and the Vikings are thin beyond Stefon Diggs. This makes things difficult for Cousins.

And the Cowboys might find some success running between the tackles against a Minnesota defense that is not really a monster, and even less so without the injured defensive tackle Linval Joseph. The rules of WagerWAR demand that a wager be placed on every NFL game, and in this instance we are backing Dallas, but in a relatively small play.

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