The Minnesota Vikings were riding high heading into Week 11 of the 2022 NFL season after pulling off a wild victory over the Buffalo Bills in Week 10. They ended up crashing back down to earth after they got absolutely destroyed by the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon by a score of 40-3.

The Vikings shared the best record in the league at 8-1 with the Philadelphia Eagles heading into Week 11, but were quickly and thoroughly dismantled by Dallas in this one. The Cowboys controlled this game from start to finish on both sides of the ball, and handed the Vikings a humbling loss after weeks of narrowly avoiding defeat.

Minnesota will have a lot of soul searching to do over the next few days, as they will attempt to get back on track on Thanksgiving day against the New England Patriots. But with the Vikings huge loss in the books, let’s take a look at three players on Minnesota who were most responsible for the final outcome in this disappointing game.

3. Za’Darius Smith

Za’Darius Smith has been the Vikings best pass rusher so far in 2022, but he had easily his worst game with Minnesota against the Cowboys. Smith leads the Vikings with 9.5 sacks on the season, and was expected to lead Minnesota’s pass rush attack on Dak Prescott. Instead, Smith spent most of the game missing in action.

Smith finished with just one tackle on the day as he struggled to make any sort of an impact. Smith didn’t lay a hand on Prescott all day either, and was part of a woeful Vikings pass rush that failed to register a single sack on the day. In a game where a lot of things went wrong, Smith’s disappearing act was one of the most disappointing developments of the day.

This could be chalked up to a one-off bad performance, which a lot of Vikings players will be hoping is the case, but it’s clear that Smith will need to be a lot better in order for Minnesota to turn things around moving forward. Smith has had some big games so far this season with the Vikings, but his outing against the Cowboys was the exact opposite of a big game.

2. Jordan Hicks

Jordan Hicks has struggled at his time in his first season with the Vikings, and he once again had a rough game against Dallas. Hicks appears to be just a step too slow at times at linebacker this year, and that was never more evident than it was in this loss against the Cowboys. As a result, Hicks could lose some snaps for Minnesota moving forward.

Hicks finished the day with just six tackles, but it’s the plays he wasn’t able to make that hurt him. Hicks was in coverage of Tony Pollard on his huge 68-yard touchdown that effectively ended the game early in the third quarter, and he struggled to keep up with the speedy Cowboys players throughout this game.

Hicks still has value as a tackler in some cases, but he hasn’t been able to keep up with quicker ball carriers all season long. The Vikings were hoping that Hicks would be able to shore up their defense by providing them a strong veteran presence at the center of things, but that simply hasn’t been the case so far, and his outing in Week 11 was the biggest piece of evidence we have received supporting that notion.

1. Kirk Cousins

The Cowboys have a dangerous defense, and while Kirk Cousins ultimately couldn’t have prevented Dallas from scoring 40 points, he could have helped them score more than three on the day. Cousins had a lot of things not work out for him in this game, but he didn’t do anything to change the Vikings offensive woes, and that will almost always earn you the top spot on this list.

Cousins ended up sitting out most of the fourth quarter because the game was already out of hand, but even then, his numbers through three full quarters were pathetic (12/23, 105 YDS, one fumble lost). Cousins took a beating as well, as he was sacked seven times, and while some of those were on the offensive line, Cousins was holding onto the ball for far too long at times as well.

Cousins’ inability to do anything in this game sunk the Vikings before they even had a chance to get off the ground. He will have to play better in future contests if Minnesota wants to hang around at the top of the NFC playoff picture. Otherwise, the Vikings could be inadvertently showing us that they weren’t as good as their 8-1 record through nine games suggested they were.