Vikings 28, Cowboys 24

Cowboys vs Vikings: Good, bad and ugly

Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Sunday's night's game between Minnesota and Dallas left a lot to be desired for Cowboys fans. Although it was a good game from a football perspective and competitive until the very end, poor play calling in the Red Zone cost them another victory as the Vikings secured a 28-24 win in Arlington.

The Good

Dak Prescott had a strong game with 397 passing yards and only one interception on a Hail Mary to end the game. Prescott seemed to be playing with an abundance of confidence as compared to previous games in which the Cowboys lost. The Vikings' defense was able to stop the Cowboys' run game early and often which forced Prescott to try and beat the Vikings through the air. He performed admirably and almost led the Cowboys to a comeback victory.

Both teams had great offensive performances with tons of crazy circus-like catches. Amari Cooper had two of those crazy catches. One gem was a toe-tapping reception that set up a 23-yead Michael Gallup touchdown two plays later. His other catch was a 12-yard touchdown to put the Cowboys up 21-20. Cooper led the game in catches with 11 receptions on 14 targets for 147 yards. Prescott and Cooper have looked in sync since his return from his injury that forced him to miss the Eagles game.

Randell Cobb recaptured some of his old Packers' magic and had his best game as a Cowboy. He had six receptions for 106 yards and one touchdown. Both Prescott and Cobb were on the same page for multiple plays, and it is a good indication that he will be utilized more going forward.

The Bad

The Cowboys could not get the run game going against Minnesota's stellar defensive line. After three straight 100-yard games, Ezekiel Elliot only rushed for a total of 47 yards on 20 carries. This forced the Cowboys to adjust their game plan and made Prescott prime to beat the Vikings defense. Everything worked in the Vikings favor early on when they scored two quick touchdowns.

Normally it is the Cowboys' offense that gets off to slow starts, but this time it was the defense that couldn't step up in the first quarter. Kirk Cousins was able to torch the Cowboys' secondary for 220 yards and two passing touchdowns to Kyle Rudolph. Even without their Pro Bowl Receiver Adam Thielen, the Vikings receivers feasted on the Cowboys' secondary. The Kubiak offense was on full display as his famous bootleg screens and run blocking schemes left the Cowboys dazed and confused as to how to stop the Vikings.

Dalvin Cook had a field day with the Cowboys' defense, rushing for 97 yards and had seven receptions for 86 yards. Compared to last week, guys like Sean Lee and Demarcus Lawrence had subpar games. Leighton Vander Esh returned from his one game absence, but was practically a no show when it came to stopping the Vikings run game.

The Ugly

Jason Garret and Kellen Moore could be credited for some gutsy play calls on offense Sunday night. The Cowboys even lined up in the Wild Cat formation at one point. The change in offensive strategy worked in the first half, but the play calling regressed when they were insistent on running the ball. This was most apparent in the 4th quarter when the boys were down by four in the red zone. The Cowboys had a first down at the Minnesota 19 but insisted on continuing to force the ball to Elliott when the Vikings had made it clear they could shut him down. After three dismal running plays, Prescott then tried to force a pass to Elliot which was deflected by Vikings Linebacker Eric Kendricks. This pitiful selection of plays ultimately cost the Cowboys the game and put Jason Garret back on the hot seat.

For the Vikings, Kyle Rudolf had a great game. It seemed as though anyone who the Cowboys sent to cover him would be in trouble. He had a total of three red zone scores, two touchdowns and one 2-point conversion. His first touchdown was a great one-handed catch that Sean Lee couldn't do anything about. On his other two scores both Lee and Chidoble Awuzie couldn't cover him. He scored 14 of the Vikings 28 points and was their biggest weapon in the red-zone.

For the third straight game, Jeff Heath left with an injury. I give kudos to his toughness and willingness to come back to the field as soon as possible, but if he is hurt he should not be on the field. When healthy, Heath is a pro bowl safety and could have been an answer for Rudolf. Heath suffered a shoulder injury which caused him to leave the game in the first half. If he is still hurt, the Cowboys should consider resting him a week or two.

The next team the Cowboys will see is the injury-riddled Lions. Although this game may look easy on paper, the Cowboys should never underestimate their opponent again after what happened during the Jets game. The Cowboys are currently tied with the Eagles atop the NFC East. Both team schedules get tough after next week, so expect a grueling race to take place in the NFC East going forward.




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Tucker looks like the real deal. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Kyle Tucker finally had his breakout season in 2020. The 23-year-old flashed potential to be a legitimate five-tool threat. He slashed .268/.325/.512, swiped eight bags, and played above average defense. Is Tucker's performance sustainable? Not only that, but is there room for growth?

Hard Hit % - 44.5%

Barrel % - 9.1%

K % - 20.2%

BB % - 7.9%
Chase % - 26.2%

The first thing to realize with Kyle Tucker is the small sample size at the MLB level. Despite appearing in three separate seasons, he's played in a total of 108 games, which is obviously quite a bit shy of even one full season. He also has an extremely unique swing that you wouldn't teach to anybody, but it "works" for him. This makes him a tough hitter to judge, as it's uncomfortable judging mechanics that work for him, and it's uncomfortable judging numbers that haven't had time to develop trends.

Hard Hit, Barrel, and Chase numbers are unavailable for the minors, but walk and strikeouts percentages are. This creates the ability to at least look at one trend.

Tucker broke onto the scene in 2018 with a monstrous season for AAA Fresno, the Astros affiliate at the time. In 2018, Tucker slashed .332/.400/.590 with 24 homers and 20 steals. He had an 18.1% K% and a 10.3% BB% that season. In 2019, Tucker struck out a little bit more (21.6%) but also walked a little bit more (11.2%). Tucker's 20.2% K% in 2020 is more in line with his minor league K%, indicating he's adjusted to major league pitching.

Tucker essentially put the pieces of contact ability and quality of contact from his previous MLB stints together in 2020. In 2018, Tucker didn't strike out very much (18.1% K%), but his 3.9% Barrel % didn't strike fear in any opponent.

In 2019, Tucker had a 12.8% Barrel %, and his 92 MPH average exit velocity is the best of his three seasons in MLB, but he struck out 27.8% of the time and walked just 5.6% of the time.

In 2020, there's a marriage between the two. His K% and BB% aren't as good as his 2018 marks, but they're better than his 2019 marks. His exit velocity and Barrel % aren't as good as his 2019 marks, but they're better than his 2018 marks. Tucker became a hitter that was able to do more damage without sacrificing consistency.

Tucker had a xBA of .267, which is right in line with his .268 average. His .459 xSLG lags behind his .512 actual SLG, but it isn't a catastrophic drop. The version of Tucker Astros fans saw is essentially who he is, but how does he improve?

What really unlocked Tucker in 2020 was a change in his setup.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here he is on August 2nd against the Angels. As you can see, he's standing pretty straight up, and he has a "neutral" stance. Following the game on Aug. 2, Tucker was batting .200/.250/.300 with no homers.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here's Tucker on August 6th, just a few days later. He's started to close off his stance just a bit, but he's still pretty neutral, and he has a little more forward body lean with his torso. Following the game on Aug. 6, he was batting .214/.267/.357 with a homer.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Now, here's Tucker on August 10th. His stance is considerably closed off, and he's maintaining the forward body lean he adopted on August 6th. Following the game on Aug. 10, Tucker was batting .190/.230/.328. It would be the last time any of those numbers would be that low the rest of the year. He maintained that stance for the rest of the season, and he finished the month of August hitting .272/.333/.588.

The swing change allowed him to be a factor on the outside pitch. Tucker would pull off on his front side, which made it tough for him to keep balls fair on the pull side. He'd often yank inside fastballs into the stands down the right field line. It also made him uncompetitive on outside strikes, as he'd either swing-and-miss, or roll them over into the shift.

After he made the change, Tucker started steering inside pitches fair, and he was able to do something with pitches on the outer third.

The next step is finding a way to continue to diversify his batted ball profile. Tucker's pull percentage in 2020 was 47%. That's a higher pull % than guys like Kyle Schwarber and Matt Olson. It was only 1% lower than Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo.

The one dimensional batted ball profile allows teams to shift Tucker aggressively. Teams shifted Tucker in 74% of his at-bats. His wOBA against the shift is .304. In AB's where teams didn't shift him, Tucker had a .455 wOBA. The shift hurts Tucker more than most as well, because he hits the ball on the ground 39% of the time. Gallo and Olson hit it on the ground 32% and 35% of the time respectively.

Lastly, Tucker's performance on breaking balls leaves a lot to be desired. He crushes fastballs, as he batted .303 with a .574 SLG against fastballs in 2020, with a .292 xBA and .528 xSLG. His .208 AVG and .396 SLG against breaking balls aren't very good, and his .209 xBA and .340 xSLG don't tell a prettier story. His 32% whiff % against breaking balls is nearly double his whiff % on fastballs.

If Tucker can learn to be more competitive against breaking balls and learn to use the whole field, then he'll be a really scary hitter. If he doesn't, teams will be able to gameplan for him, and he'll see streaky production similar to other one dimensional hitters like Matt Carpenter and the aforementioned Gallo and Olson.

While the bat may be streaky, Tucker brings it with the glove and on the bases. He had 5 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in the outfield in 2020, a 0.6 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), and he was plus-4 in Outs Above Average. His well above average speed and instincts give him the ability to be a rangy outfielder and dangerous baserunner.

Tucker had a breakout season in 2020, but there's still changes left to be made if he wants to be a breakout star and not a one hit wonder.

This is part four of an offseason series covering the 2020 Houston Astros. Be sure to check out parts 1-3 on SportsMap.

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