Kirk Cousins and Dak Prescott aren’t playing like MVPs, but they’ve done enough to make the Vikings, Cowboys playoff contenders.
FRISCO, Texas – Dak PrescottHis pronouncement was hardly hyperbole.
But when the Cowboys quarterback said the contest between a 6-3 squad (Dallas) and an 8-1 powerhouse was “a playoff game,” he wasn’t just assuming the atmosphere or the stakes. Rather, the conference foes actually have two currently postseason-eligible squads heading into this November game. And the teams share one telling trait: They’ve won without a potential MVP quarterback.
Entering the 11th week of the NFL season, there is clarity among teams in playoff positions across the league. Ten won at least two-thirds of their games, five of which quarterbacked the players with the five best odds to win this season’s NFL MVP honors. Per BetMGM.
The Kansas City Chiefs‘ Patrick Mahomes (+125), Buffalo Bill‘ Josh Allen (+500), Philadelphia Eagles‘ Jalen gets hurt (+500), Miami Dolphins‘ Tua Tagovailoa (+500) and Baltimore Ravens‘ Lamar Jackson (+1200) tops the list. No other player’s odds are better than +2500.
While none of these five players are performing in isolation, their passing prowess is closely related to their path to the playoffs. Tagovailoa leads the league with a 118.4 passer rating, a measure that depends on pass attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions. Hurts is third, Mahomes fourth, Allen seventh and Jackson eighth.
Cousins and Prescott, meanwhile, posted the 20th and 24th best passer ratings, respectively.
Which begs the question: What role did each quarterback play in his team’s fast start? And how will this weekend affect their mouths off?
A touch of the clutch
Cousins has been consistent, if not elite. He threw between one and two touchdowns per game, averaged just under one interception per contest and racked up 261.8 yards per game through the air, eighth most among league quarterbacks.
His touchdown-to-interception ratio has dropped from last year’s impressive 4.7 multiple (33-to-7) to his current 1.75 (14-to-8). But Cousins executed when it mattered most as the Vikings won seven of eight games by one score or less. No quarterback has led more game-winning drives this year than Cousins’ five. No passer exceeded his five comebacks. After the Vikings dropped eight of their nine losses by one possession last season, the swing is surprising.
“It’s finding those inches,” Cousins said. “I don’t like to rely on that play at the end of every game, but you understand in this league, they tend to come down to the final drive. And these games are just like that. Being battle-tested, I think is a good thing for us.
“It will help us move forward.”
The Vikings mount the seventh-most explosive passing attack with a deep stable of weapons. the receiver Justin Jefferson And Adam Thielen offers Cousins consistently reliable targets. Minnesota immediately assembled tight ends TJ Hawkenson In two matches since then Acquiring him at the trade deadline. Jefferson’s acrobatics blew the league away last Sunday when he A fourth-and-18 steal on target From the hands of a bill defender. His 1,060 receiving yards led only the Miami Dolphins Tyreek Hill (1,148). Jefferson’s route-running instincts, speed and elite body control will likely bring him success with most pass rushers. But Cousins deserves credit for his connection with the third-year skill player.
“Both of them have been very, very critical to our success this year and continue to prove to me that they are a huge part of not only who we are now but where we will be going forward,” Vikings head coach Kevin O’ said. Connell said this week. “They’ve come together in a way where I’ve seen their relationship grow. I’ve seen Justin mature as a professional here in 3 years as a premier player in this league but in Kirk Cousins’ year 1 in an offense where he’s played a lot of football.”
With a bottom-five defense and a below-average rushing attack, the Vikings’ passing attack has been the most reliable component of their season so far. O’Connell’s philosophies on game-plan specific packages, personnel groupings, camouflage and tempo help maximize his talent. Nevertheless, Cousins spearheaded the implementation of the plan.
“He’s had a lot of success in his career, but some of the elements this year are new and different and we’re asking a lot of him,” O’Connell said. “He’s trying to be his best when he needs to be, and I think you can’t say enough about the quarterback position.”
‘Not as clean or as good as I’d like’
Prescott, meanwhile, has competed in just four of Dallas’ nine games. He missed weeks 2-6 after breaking his throwing thumb in the season-opening loss to Dallas. With a bye week between his past two starts, his schedule and performances have each been inconsistent.
when Packers Last Sunday’s upset of the Cowboys, that was on full display.
Prescott opened the game 0 for 4 after the Cowboys made a couple of three-and-outs, head coach Mike McCarthy later attributed the slow start to rusty footwork in Prescott’s first outdoor game of the year. The next series: Prescott completed 10 of 11 attempts (albeit some short ones), as well as rushing for three first downs capped by a Prescott drive on a 17-play, 83-yard drive. CeeDee Lamb touchdown
Prescott finished the game with 265 yards and three touchdowns — but he also completed just 58.7% of his attempts and threw two interceptions on early throws that the Cowboys said his receivers didn’t execute smartly.
In four games, Prescott completed 63.8% of his attempts for 865 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. He flashed in some series, but also threw picks at the highest clip of his seven-year career.
Prescott was asked Thursday if his performance this season has been erratic.
“Unsure? That’s a good question,” he said. “I can’t necessarily say that. Obviously like you said it’s been five games for me, some things getting on the same page, making sure guys understand and they do .. . But obviously not 5-0 in those games so definitely not as clean or as good as I want it to be.”
Prescott emphasized that he believes in his arm and his goals so he wants to continue to “let it rip.” McCarthy said Prescott’s “best days are ahead of him” but he has “zero concerns”.
Reality: The Cowboys’ 4-1 record without Prescott, versus their 2-2 record with him, doesn’t imply a backup quarterback. Cooper Rush A superior option. But it points to the formula that powered the Cowboys’ win, such as a dominant run game that complemented an initially stingy defense with a vicious pass rush.
When Rush played, the Cowboys didn’t ask much of their quarterback. In the Cowboys’ four wins, Rush has thrown four touchdowns without an interception. (He threw one touchdown and three picks against Philly.) The run-first attack bleeds the clock and keeps Cowboys defenders fresh, while clean football reduces opportunities for opponents to capitalize. The defense rose to the occasion and prided itself on carrying the team in Prescott’s absence. Since his return, some defenders admit that sense of urgency has slipped. Each of the last two matches, Opponents have torched the Cowboys for over 200 rushing yards In an alarming game-plan trend. The Cowboys blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead against the Green Bay Packers.
“S***, it’s not going to happen again,” the linebacker Micah Parsons Said “If Duck goes in there and gives me that lead again, I promise we won’t do it again.”
So what can fans expect between the Cowboys and Vikings?
Who has the edge?
The Cowboys have won in Minnesota each of the last two seasons. they are Favored by 1.5 points Despite the Vikings’ superior record on the road.
Perhaps this stems in part from a general bias about the Cowboys, but it also likely reflects the team’s relative strength. The Cowboys’ pass defense can confuse Cousins and tempt mistakes. If running back Ezekiel Elliott (knee) returns from two-week absence as expected, Cowboys can beat Vikings with Elliott back Tony Pollard.
“They have a lot of rushers,” O’Connell said. “I mean, they have a lot of guys in front of them that can really wreak havoc. They get 1-on-1s in different ways, and … I told our team: ‘You can’t let a snap go. [without] Fundamentally, strategy, understanding assignments, call keys, dialing in 100 percent. Because if you give up on one game, that could be the game changer.
The Cowboys, likewise, must defend against the outside-zone run and Jefferson’s prowess or risk their playoff chances in a loaded division.
“They’re going to find a weak link and attack,” the Cowboys safety Jeron Kearse Says “They will take you into disharmony.”
Individual differences may arise. But these two teams, in the sport’s most dominant position, are well matched.
The NFL is about to learn more about this pair of postseason contenders — and how serious a threat their quarterbacks pose now and in the playoffs.
Follow Yahoo Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @ZoriEpstein
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