MINNEAPOLIS - The bye week has come and gone for the Minnesota Vikings, and they’re back in game week mode as they get ready to host the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, Halloween night at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings got back to .500 at 3-3 with a 34-28 win in overtime at the Carolina Panthers. The team faces arguably its toughest four-game stretch of the season, facing the Cowboys, Ravens, Charges and Packers the next four weeks. Those four teams are a combined 20-6 this season, with the Cowboys and Packers each being division leaders.
Here’s five questions facing the team coming out of the break as they continue to chase a spot in the NFC Playoffs.
WHEN WILL MICHAEL PIERCE RETURN?
Defensive tackle Michael Pierce has missed the last two games with an elbow injury, and watched most of the second half of the Vikings’ 14-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns from the sideline. He was not placed on injured reserve, which suggests the injury isn’t significant. General Manager Rick Spielman said during his bye week news conference he expects Pierce to be back this week against the Cowboys. With the run defense struggling, getting Pierce back would be critical against Ezekiel Elliott.
HOW SIGNIFICANT IS PATRICK PETERSON’S INJURY?
The Vikings put veteran defensive back Patrick Peterson on injured reserve last week, meaning he won’t play against the Cowboys, Ravens or Chargers. Peterson went down with a hamstring injury late in regulation against the Carolina Panthers, covering DJ Moore on a deep pass down the sideline. Peterson’s on-field absence is significant. He’s Minnesota’s top defensive back, and they’ll miss his veteran presence guarding top receivers. His injury means Bashaud Breeland, Cam Dantzler, Mackensie Alexander, Kris Boyd and even Harrison Hand will have to take on expanded roles. Spielman said Peterson should return to face the Packers, but hamstring injuries are always difficult to gauge.
CAN DALVIN COOK STAY HEALTHY?
Dalvin Cook’s health is arguably one of the biggest questions facing the Vikings’ offense the rest of the season. Cook missed two games, oddly enough both wins, with an ankle injury suffered Week 2 at Arizona after getting tackled by JJ Watt. Cook admitted he wasn’t 100 percent at Carolina, yet still had 29 carries for 140 yards and a touchdown. He has 366 yards and two touchdowns in four games. The Vikings are at their best when Cook, Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are all healthy and at the top of their game. Here’s to hoping the bye week gave Cook’s ankle time to heal.
WILL KIRK COUSINS STAY HOT?
If the Vikings were 5-1 instead of 3-3, Kirk Cousins is likely at least in the early conversation for the NFL MVP. Through six games, Cousins is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 1,769 yards and 13 touchdowns. Most importantly, he has just two interceptions and hasn’t lost a fumble all season. Cousins led game-winning drives against the Panthers and Lions, and gave the Vikings a chance to beat Cincinnati and Arizona. He’s off to one of the best starts of his career, and needs to stay on his current pace if the Vikings are going to be a playoff team. He’ll get his next test Sunday night in primetime.
IS THIS JUST THE START FOR CHRISTIAN DARRISAW?
After rehabbing a groin/core injury that required two offseason procedures, first round pick Christian Darrisaw got his feet wet in Week 5 against the Detroit Lions with 28 offensive snaps. At Carolina, he made his first NFL start and played all 89 offensive snaps. He did so without allowing a pressure on Cousins. For the immediate future, it appears the starting offensive line consists of Brian O’Neill, Oli Udoh, Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland and Darrisaw. The hope is he can stay healthy and solidify his spot on the line.
There’s 11 games left, but the Vikings are in a critical spot the next four games if they intend to stay in the playoff race.