5 keys to victory: Minnesota Vikings vs Dallas Cowboys in week 13

What will the Minnesota Vikings need to do in order to defeat the surging Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football during week 13 of the 2016 NFL season?

At one time, the Minnesota Vikings were the crown jewels of the NFL. At 5-0, they were the last remaining undefeated team and it looked as though the team was bound to make an appearance in the playoffs, possibly even the Super Bowl.

What a difference the NFL has been since! Since then, the team has gone 1-5 and now need to piece together a winning streak to return to relevance. They will have a massive challenge in front of them in week 13, as arguably the best team in the NFL will be coming to Minnesota.

Thursday Night Football will find the Vikings up against the Dallas Cowboys. There are plenty of reasons to doubt that Minnesota will be able start their winning streak against these 10-1 opponents, but anything can happen on any given…Thursday?

But what will the Minnesota Vikings need to do in order to get a win over the Cowboys? Well, that list is pretty long and there is little room for error during the game, but the first thing they must do is something most teams have struggled with this season.

Nov 6, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) carries the ball for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns in the first half at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

#1. Contain Ezekiel Elliott

Just putting this on the list makes it feel like an impossible task. Elliott has been absolutely amazing so far this season, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and reaching the end zone 11 times during his rookie year.

Minnesota will need to play a lot of disciplined defense. That means not rushing the quarterback as often as usual and waiting to see plays develop before them. Sure tackling and holding ground on the line of scrimmage will be key for the Vikings in making Elliott work hard.

But therein lies another near impossible task. The Cowboys offensive line is full of absolute monsters who have been instrumental in building this dominating Dallas run game. The defensive line will be up for a challenge in a major way.

Elliott is bound to gain some yardage, but the key is to limit big runs by playing disciplined defense and close gaps if possible. There will be damage done, but as long as it’s not overwhelming it can be managed.

Nov 20, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (8) throws during the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 20, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (8) throws during the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

#2. Look down the field

Sam Bradford said earlier this week that the team needs to make more big plays on offense. Of course, that’s going to be a tough task considering the injury depleted offensive line that is blocking for him.

But there are chances the team can be creative and find some ways to either engineer some deep passes or create big plays by putting the ball in the hands of some of the dynamic receivers the Vikings have at their disposal.

So far, the coaching staff has been able to make some adjustments to the offense to allow time for Sam Bradford to make quick, accurate passes. More adjustments will definitely be needed in order to open up a passing game so reliant on yards after the catch.

Again, this looks to be a big challenge, but one the Vikings will need to execute in order to have a shot at winning. Being efficient and moving the chains can be a recipe for success against some teams, but not a squad like Dallas has.

Nov 24, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) motions to Washington Redskins defense during the second quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

#3. Don’t become too focused on the run

The first key absolutely stands true. The Minnesota defense should be focusing on stopping Elliott once the ball is in his hands. But using all the team’s resources on that aspect of the game opens up some dangerous options for Dallas.

Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has proven that he is capable of making throws when asked to do so. Opponents of the Cowboys have tried taking away Elliott and making him throw the football in hopes Dallas’ offense would fall apart.

That hasn’t been the case though. The man Jerry Jones calls “The Daddy” for some reason has put together an impressive rookie season, throwing 18 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions and is on track to throw for over 4,000 yards this year.

The Vikings will need to win the one-on-one battles with the Cowboys receivers, putting strain on the defensive backs and eliminating some bodies what could be used help stop the run. Thankfully, Minnesota has some talented cornerbacks who should be up for this tough task.

Dec 7, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings tackle Mike Harris (79) and guard Joe Berger (61) and center John Sullivan (65) and guard Vladimir Ducasse (62) prepare to block against the New York Jets in the third quarter at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings win 30-24. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 7, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings tackle Mike Harris (79) and guard Joe Berger (61) and center John Sullivan (65) and guard Vladimir Ducasse (62) prepare to block against the New York Jets in the third quarter at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings win 30-24. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

#4. Help the offensive line

If you ask any fan what the biggest issue currently is with the Minnesota Vikings, they will be quick to tell you that the offense isn’t getting the job done. The root of that problem has been multiple players being lost for extended periods of time due to injuries.

Sam Bradford is going to need time in the pocket if the team has any hopes of keeping up with the high-powered Dallas offense. Last week’s game against Detroit proved that it will take more than dunking to win in today’s NFL.

Minnesota has been able to shift around personnel and chip using running backs to be able to get quick passes off. But they’ll need to continue to evolve that approach, particularly when it comes to the run game.

The scarier aspect of the injuries to Minnesota’s offensive line comes in creating running lanes, which is something the Vikings have failed to do all season long to this point.

Dec 20, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon (31) rushes for a touchdown away from Chicago Bears linebacker Shea McClellin (50) in the second quarter at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings win 38-17. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 20, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon (31) rushes for a touchdown away from Chicago Bears linebacker Shea McClellin (50) in the second quarter at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings win 38-17. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

#5 Run the football

I bet you thought #5 was going to be something entirely different and that for one week the idea of the Vikings working hard to establish the run would be left off the list in favor of a different key to victory.

But nope. Here it is. No need to rehash the awful statistics on Minnesota’s inability to run the football or discuss more about how the team’s running backs struggle to get past the line of scrimmage on a regular basis.

Thankfully, neither Jerick McKinnon or Matt Asiata are listed on the injury report for Monday, November 28, 2016. That could give some hope that they might be able to perform better than expected against the Dallas Cowboys.

That might not be so tough, since expectations for the Vikings ground game couldn’t get much lower. In a league where the pass opens the run or vice-versa, the team really needs both these parts of the game to be present…and that just hasn’t been the case so far.

Don’t miss the Minnesota Vikings taking on the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football during week 13 of the NFL season. The game will take place on December 1, 2016 from the home of the Vikings, with Minnesota’s playoff hopes potentially on the line.

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