NFC North Reporter
In the first 10 weeks of the season, the Minnesota Vikings rode to an 8-1 record behind one of the most complete teams the franchise has seen in recent memory. Armed with a fresh new regime that suited the Viking staff well, and a few breaks in plans going their way, it seemed to be sailing the Nordic seas smoothly.
Until they (literally) ran into a Dallas Cowboys team that had it all to prove.
The Vikings took an absolute beating at home, falling 40-3 to the Cowboys in the biggest away win in Dallas history. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the Cowboys have uncovered what seems to be Minnesota’s only glaring weakness: a lack of depth of the game.
The most glaring example was when Vikings left tackle Christian Darrisaw was eliminated in the first half with a head injury. Darrisaw had come into play as PFF’s top rated lineman this season with an overall score of 89.8. It was a big step forward, even from a standout rookie, as he posted an offensive 71.9 aggregate grade in 2021. In fact, Darrisaw hadn’t allowed a sack all season. He had given up just three hits, seven rushes and just 10 total presses to boot. He finished his third straight game with a run blocking score above 90.
But that streak of no-sacks changed that game when Darrisaw allowed one of quarterback Kirk Cousins’ seven takedowns by the Cowboys.
It also raised the question of whether Darrisaw should have played at all. Left tackle was limited by a concussion in practice last week. He was held out fully on Wednesday and made progress from there, clearing history ahead of Sunday’s matchup. His availability was much to the Vikings’ relief given their lack of depth across the board, not excluding left tackle position.
Dallas pass rusher Micah Parsons beat Darrisaw to Cousins on his first sack of the day. And Parsons’ second came by defeating Darrisaw’s backup, Blake Brandel. It came after Brandel was also called out for a false start.
Brandel is by no means battle-hardened. For the remainder of the game, the line almost completely fell apart. It doesn’t help that two of Minnesota’s backup linemen are also injured, leaving the Vikings with many options, especially quality ones.
And now they’ll have to do without Darrisaw for Thursday’s matchup against the New England Patriots, according to head coach Kevin O’Connell. They are (rightly) wary of the young player.
But Minnesota had taken Darrisaw’s instant ability to step in as a rookie for granted. The Vikings thought nothing of the fact that the first-year player immediately became a suitable left tackle for a passer like Cousins, who relies heavily on a clean pocket most of the time. It gave them no sense of urgency when it came to ensuring they could weather stormy seas ahead or anywhere else.
Defensively, cornerback Cam Dantzler is on injured reserve. Defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson was out with a calf injury. Cornerback Akayleb Evans is out with a concussion. Za’Darius Smith, their top pass rusher, played despite a knee injury. As a result, Dallas’ passing game blossomed. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott saw the second highest completion rate of his career when he completed 22 of 25 pass attempts for 276 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was 139.3. He didn’t take sacks.
On the one hand, the problem is easy to identify. Fixing something as fickle as health may not be the case, however.
No team makes it to the end of the season without weathering a few storms. After all, that’s all a game ever is. But the question now is whether the Vikings, with their lack of depth, will be able to weather the storms on the horizon.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen previously had stints with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl champion (and Boat Parade participant) to her resume. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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