Week 11 is upon us, and the Minnesota Vikings (8-1) will look for their ninth win when the Dallas Cowboys (6-3) come to town on Sunday. It promises to be another big test of this Vikings team’s credentials.
At the same time, some are coming around to the fact that this is a good football team. There are still some doubters. Will another victory against a team expected to be in the playoff shakeup win over those remaining doubters? Who knows? Who cares?
Most importantly, this Vikings team believes in itself. Suppose the Vikings are to win again and extend their winning streak to eight. At that point, continuing to deny this is a good football would be bordering on madness. Here are my Vikings players to watch vs. the Cowboys.
The Vikings will need a big day on the ground. Dallas has one of the worst run defenses in the league. So a big day for Dalvin Cook and perhaps even more work than usual for Alexander Mattison could be in order if the Vikings can dominate on the ground. That will open the passing game up for Jefferson, Thielen, Hockenson, etc.
Complimentary football will secure the Vikings the win, but it starts with the run game.
Despite suggestions that Cook might have lost a step, he already has 727 rushing yards at an impressive 5 yards per carry. He is set to go over 1,000 rushing yards for the fourth straight season at his current pace. The one thing that had been missing this season was the big touchdown run. He put that right last week with the 81-yard score against Buffalo.
One of the season’s stories has been Garrett Bradbury’s rise from the most ridiculed player on the Vikings roster to the solid anchor in the middle of the Vikings offensive line. Many wanted the Vikings to find a new center after three disappointing seasons from the 2019 first-round pick. Kevin O’Connell decided to stick with Bradbury, even after bringing in two free agents who can play center — Chris Reed and Austin Schlottmann.
Bradbury has repaid his coach for sticking by him and is putting together a season nobody saw coming.
Pro Football Focus ranks him ninth among eligible centers, scoring 69.5. His run-blocking grade, which has always been good, is at a career-high grade of 73.9. In contrast, his pass-blocking has always been his downfall. This year his grade of 65.7 signifies the improvement people had been waiting for. Last year, his pass-blocking grade was 43.7, which was an improvement on the previous two years, which were in the 30s.
With the departure of Michael Pierce, the Vikings turned to Harrison Phillips as their big run stuffer. Horrible Harry — that’s his nickname, not an insult — was the first significant signing of the Kwesi Adofo-Mensah era in Minnesota. It has proven to be an astute signing.
Phillips has been solid against the run, as expected, along with Dalvin Tomlinson. He is often tasked with taking on double teams to give his teammates a better chance on the edge. It is vital to how the Vikings defense wants to operate that their tackles can hold up in those double teams.
He is more than that, though, as was highlighted last Sunday against his former employers. Back in Orchard Park to face the Bills, with Tomlinson missing through injury, Phillips had his best game in a Vikings jersey. He showcased that he was more than just a run stuffer, generating 7 pressures, 6 hurries, and a QB hit.
He even chased running back Devin Singletary down to the sideline and made a tackle — not something you expect from your nose tackle. His PFF grade of 87.0 was his highest of the season. Tomlinson won’t be back this week, meaning the Vikings will need another big game from Phillips.