Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell, the new and hip offensive whiz, crafted a game plan on Sunday that could have landed his quarterback in the emergency room.
Kirk Cousins was under siege by Dallas' elite pass rush during a 40-3 trouncing by the Cowboys. The Vikings managed a meager 183 yards of offense, 3.4 yards a snap.
Fortunately for the Vikings, they have a short turnaround until their Thanksgiving Day meeting with New England. They will be able to forget the debacle on Sunday, and O'Connell can take his game plan to the fireplace and use it as kindling.
"Just an uncharacteristic performance by our offense," O'Connell said.
Good. The first step toward solving a problem is admitting that you have one. And as soon as quarterback Cousins dropped back to pass once on Sunday, it was evident that the Vikings' approach was not going to be successful.
After handing off twice to Dalvin Cook on the opening drive of the game, netting 7 yards, Cousins dropped back to pass on third and 3. Pass-rushing menace Micah Parsons wrapped him up for a sack, and the ball came loose and was gobbled up by the Cowboys.
The Cowboys entered the game second in the NFL with 35 sacks on the season. Parsons entered the game with eight. DeMarcus Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong Jr. each had five. Dante Fowler had four.
If you are going to drop back and throw a lot against that group, pack a lunch.
On top of that, the Cowboys had allowed 207 and 240 rushing yards in their previous two games. The Vikings have Cook, a ball-carrying savant. The blueprint for an effective offense was there. Put Cook in the kitchen and let him do his thing. Tame the dangerous Cowboys pass rush by running the ball. The opening drive was a preview of things to come.
On their second possession, the Vikings ran three times and passed seven times. That included a dropped pass by T.J. Hockenson in the end zone on second and 2 from the 6 that would have given the Vikings an early lead. They ended up settling for a field goal to make it 3-3.
If it's third and a bunch, yeah, there's little choice but to throw the ball downfield. But the Vikings could have forced the run earlier in the game, and maybe things wouldn't have spiraled out of control like it did.
As the game went on, the Vikings lost both left tackle Christian Darrisaw and left guard Ezra Cleveland, so the matchups weren't in their favor. But being predictable with the passing game when the game was still in the balance allowed the Cowboys defense to meet at the quarterback.
Over and over.
Even when Dallas led 30-3 early in the third quarter, the Vikings could have made things interesting, especially if Cook could pop another long touchdown run, like he did last week in Buffalo to bring the Vikings back to life after trailing by 17 points. But their first play of the third quarter was a slow-developing play-action pass during which Cousins turned his back to the defense, then looked to throw downfield only to see Lawrence in his face for another sack.
Dallas finished with seven sacks and 13 quarterback hits. Cousins' streak of 39 games with at least one touchdown pass ended under a blizzard of white jerseys adorned with blue stars.
"It was a tough night to play quarterback out there," O'Connell said. "We have to do some things to help him any way, shape or form we can. Running the ball more, obviously something we will look to do more once we establish ourselves in these games."
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said after the game, "The MO is going to be people are going to try to run the ball on us." But the Vikings didn't, rushing only 17 times for 73 yards. They rushed nine times but threw 15 passes in the first half.
O'Connell pointed out that Vikings ran only 54 plays on Sunday as they failed to get traction no matter what they called. I would have liked to have seen what a run-heavy package would have done early.
Instead, they played into the Cowboys' strength.