Vikings’ glaring weakness exposed in blowout loss to Cowboys

Through the first 10 weeks of the season, the Minnesota Vikings cruised 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 was well-suited to the Vikings’ personnel and a few schedule breaks that went their way, it seemed to be smooth sailing on the Nordic seas.

Until they (literally) ran into a Dallas Cowboys team with everything to prove.

The Vikings suffered an absolute drubbing at home, falling to the Cowboys 40-3 in the largest road win in Dallas history. And if that isn’t bad enough, the Cowboys exposed what seems to be Minnesota’s one glaring weakness: a lack of depth.

The most stark example came when Vikings left tackle Christian Darrisaw went out with a head injury in the first half. Darrisaw had come into the game as PFF’s highest-graded lineman this season, with an 89.8 overall grade. It was a large step forward even from a standout rookie showing, when he tallied an overall offensive grade of 71.9 in 2021. Darrisaw hadn’t allowed a sack all season, in fact. He’d given up just three hits, seven hurries and only 10 total pressures to boot. He was also coming off his third straight game with a run-blocking grade of over 90.

But that streak of no sacks changed in this game, when Darrisaw allowed one of the seven takedowns of quarterback Kirk Cousins at the hands of the Cowboys. 

It also begged the question if Darrisaw should have been playing at all. The left tackle had been limited in practice this past week with a concussion. He was held out entirely on Wednesday and progressed from there, clearing protocol prior to Sunday’s matchup. His availability was much to the Vikings’ relief, given their lack of depth all along the line, not excluding the left tackle position.

Dallas pass rusher Micah Parsons beat Darrisaw to Cousins on his first sack of the day. And Parsons’ second came by beating Darrisaw’s replacement, Blake Brandel. It came after Brandel was called for a false start, too.

Brandel is not battle-tested by any means. The line almost completely fell apart the rest of the game. It doesn’t help that two of Minnesota’s backup linemen are also injured, leaving the Vikings without a lot of options, especially quality ones.

And now they’ll be without Darrisaw for Thursday’s matchup with the New England Patriots, per head coach Kevin O’Connell. They’re (rightfully) being cautious with the young player.

But Minnesota had been taking Darrisaw’s immediate ability to step in as a rookie for granted. The Vikings thought nothing of the first-year player immediately becoming a suitable left tackle for a passer like Cousins, who relies heavily on a clean pocket more often than not. It gave them no sense of urgency when it came to making sure they could weather stormy seas up front, or anywhere else for that matter.

Defensively, cornerback Cam Dantzler is on injured reserve. Defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson was out due to a calf injury. Cornerback Akayleb Evans was ruled out with a concussion. Za’Darius Smith, their best pass rusher, was playing through a knee injury. As a result, the Dallas passing game flourished. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott saw the second-highest completion rate of his career as he completed 22-of-25 pass attempts for 276 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was 139.3. He took no sacks.

On one hand, the problem is easily identifiable. Fixing something as fickle as health, though, may not be.

No team makes it to the end of the season without facing a few storms. That’s all one game ever is, after all. But the question now is if 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 had previous stops 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 résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more

in this topic