After turning the corner in three straight wins over NFC North opponents, including holding the Chicago Bears to 149 yards of offense -- a season low for the Vikings' defense -- Minnesota got thrashed by Dallas backup quarterback Andy Dalton and gave up 180 rushing yards, including Ezekiel Elliot's first 100-yard game of the season.
"I thought we were getting better defensively after the last three weeks but that didn't show up yesterday," coach Mike Zimmer said.
Asked whether the level of inexperience among young defenders was the reason behind Sunday's issues, Zimmer pointed to a level of overzealous play at times where defenders were out of position and not doing what they had been instructed to in practice.
"We had a couple mistakes. Honestly, I think a little bit had to do with these guys feeling their oats a little bit," Zimmer said. "Now they're going to be play makers and go out and do this and do that instead of just doing their job and I think that showed up a few times as well. And then there were some other plays. The missed tackle on the 40-yard run, the bust on the one that got down to the 1-yard line right before the half. That was a busted coverage. There's some things like that but sometimes with young guys when they start thinking they're pretty good -- 'hey, I'm going to go to this, I'm going to go make this play' -- instead of sticking to the things in the defense that you're supposed to do, I think that showed up a few times yesterday. More than a few times, actually."
Minnesota's red zone defense, which has been a strength in 2020, was anything but in Week 11. The Vikings allowed the Cowboys to convert on three of four trips inside the 20 and twice on fourth down, including a 10-yard reception allowed to Amari Cooper on 4th-and-6 with 2:05 to play that sparked Dallas' game-winning TD drive.
Dalton was pressured on just four of his 34 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
"He was getting the ball out quick for the most part," Zimmer said. "It was RPOs, quick throws. So if we were tighter in coverage it would've been better. They didn't really try to go deep very often. they ran the ball on third down about three times. So I think it was a combination of that."
While Elliott rushed for a team-high 103 yards, it was back-up running back Tony Pollard who broke off a game-changing run late in the fourth quarter as the Vikings and Cowboys got into a wrestling match for the lead.