Vikings visit Cow­boys with RBS El­liott, Cook in spot­light

The Saline Courier Weekend - - SPORTS - By Schuyler Dixon

AR­LING­TON, Texas — Ezekiel El­liott doesn’t feel the need to de­clare him­self the best run­ning back in the NFL with the two-time rush­ing cham­pion and the Dal­las Cow­boys set to face cur­rent leader Dalvin Cook and the Minnesota Vikings.

Two months after be­com­ing the high­est-paid back by end­ing a pre­sea­son-long hold­out and sign­ing a $90 mil­lion ex­ten­sion, El­liott is sixth in the rush­ing race with 741 yards, 153 be­hind Cook in one fewer game.

El­liott is also on one of his best rolls, look­ing to match a ca­reer best with a fourth straight 100-yard game at home against the Vikings (6-3) on Sun­day night, the third straight prime-time game for the Cow­boys (5-3).

“I think there have been run­ning backs that have played bet­ter this year,” El­liott said.

And that sugges­tion doesn’t bother a two-time Pro Bowler who was an All-pro as a rookie in 2016.

“It just kind of adds a lit­tle fuel to the fire,” said El­liott, whose 4,789 yards rush­ing since en­ter­ing the league are al­most 1,000 yards more than any­one else. “I’ve got some more work to do, that’s all.”

Cook needs 106 yards to be­come Minnesota’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Adrian Peter­son in 2015, when Peter­son won the last of his three rush­ing ti­tles for the Vikings.

“Any time you can be men­tioned with a guy like that is awe­some,” said Cook, who is sec­ond in the NFL to Chris­tian Mccaf­frey with 1,232 scrim­mage yards. “It’s a guy that’s highly rec­om­mended in this or­ga­ni­za­tion and I’m just proud of be­ing in the con­ver­sa­tion.”

But for Cook, the con­ver­sa­tion is re­ally more about El­liott. Born 23 days after the for­mer Ohio State star in the sum­mer of 1995, Cook came out of Florida State a year later than El­liott and was drafted in the sec­ond round.

So next sum­mer, Cook could be go­ing into the fi­nal year of his con­tract be­cause Minnesota doesn’t have a fifth-year op­tion on him.

The Cow­boys had that with El­liott, the fourth over­all pick in 2016, so there were two years left on his con­tract when he held out this past sum­mer.

“Ev­ery­body’s dif­fer­ent,” Cook said. “Zeke’s been putting in the work since Day One since he walked in. I just think that’s what it all comes back to. Just putting in the work and not look­ing for a pay­day. Just look­ing to get wins and look­ing to do good things for the or­ga­ni­za­tion and it’ll pay it­self off.”

To Cook’s point, the first meet­ing be­tween the teams since El­liott and quar­ter­back Dak Prescott were rookie sen­sa­tions in 2016 is im­por­tant in what is shap­ing up to be a dif­fi­cult play­off chase in the NFC.

The de­fend­ing NFC East cham­pion Cow­boys lead Philadel­phia by half a game. The Vikings trail Green Bay by a game in the NFC North and cur­rently hold the last play­off spot in the con­fer­ence. Plus, the of­fenses and de­fenses of both teams are all ranked in the top 10.

“This is the tough­est test we’ve had as an of­fense go­ing against this de­fense,” said Dal­las tight end Ja­son Wit­ten, back for a club record 16th sea­son after a year in re­tire­ment as a broad­caster. “So I think it would be fool­ish to be think­ing about some­thing down the road.” QB RE­BOOT

Prescott and Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins see other for the first time since they were di­vi­sion ri­vals when Cousins was in Washington. Prescott was 4-0 in those meet­ings his first two sea­sons, and Cousins is 1-6 in his ca­reer against the Cow­boys. AN­OTHER TOUGH TEST In their last 10 road games against teams with a win­ning record at the time, the Vikings are 0-9-1. Their last such vic­tory was at At­lanta on Dec. 3, 2017, be­fore Cousins ar­rived.

The lack of big-game wins has been a knock on the eighth-year quar­ter­back, in­clud­ing last week’s 26-23 loss to Kansas City when the Chiefs were with­out Patrick Ma­homes. Beat­ing Dal­las, in prime time no less, would be a big lift for more than just Minnesota’s post­sea­son bid.

“If you’re go­ing to be a play­off team, you have to win tough games in tough en­vi­ron­ments at some point,” Cousins said. “Oth­er­wise you’re prob­a­bly not get­ting into the play­offs.”

TOUCH-AND-GO COOPER

Top Dal­las re­ceiver Amari Cooper isn’t sure he’ll be able to play after ag­gra­vat­ing a knee in­jury he sus­tained in prac­tice the week be­fore Mon­day’s 37-18 win at the Giants. Cooper left dur­ing the first se­ries, but came back to catch a 45-yard touch­down.

TAK­ING CARE

The Vikings haven’t al­lowed any points off turnovers in five straight games. Cousins has gone three straight games with­out a turnover, match­ing the long­est streak of his ca­reer since he be­came a full-time starter with the Red­skins in 2015.

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