The Minnesota defense dominated the last time the Cowboys and Vikings met.
The Vikings sacked Tony Romo six times while cruising to a 34-3 rout in the NFC divisional playoffs, the seventh postseason meeting between the teams. It was also a Vikings’ record for the fewest points allowed in their playoff history.
As the teams prepare for their Week 6 matchup in the Metrodome, there are plenty of questions that both teams will need to address in order not to fall to 1-4.
Against the Titans last week, the Cowboys had a 400-yard passer, a 100-yard receiver and a 100-yard rusher but managed to lose the game by committing 12 penalties, three turnovers, missing a field goal and allowing a kickoff return of 73 yards.
For the Vikings, wide receiver Randy Moss returned to the club that originally drafted him in 1998 and with three days of practice, tried to be a factor in a Monday night contest against the New York Jets. Moss did manage to catch Brett Favre’s 500th career touchdown pass but did not do much else.
When studying Moss in that game, you could still see the ability to get vertical in route. That is something the Cowboys corner back Mike Jenkins and safety Alan Ball really had problems carrying not only in the Titans game but the Bears game as well.
In my preparation for this week’s game, I went back and studied the playoff game from that January day. There were two areas that really stood out for me on defense for the Cowboys. One was their ability to get decent hits on Favre in the passing game and two, their inability to play the ball down the field. On the big plays that the Vikings were able to get in the passing game, wide receiver Sidney Rice was a major factor, but Rice is recovering from hip surgery and will not play until December at the earliest.
With Rice out of the lineup, the thought was to try and go with Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, Greg Lewis and Javon Walker until Rice was ready. As the preseason wore on, it was evident that this group would not be good enough and a trade was made for the productive Greg Camarillo from the Dolphins, who played like Favre’s best option in the season opener against the Saints.
With Moss now back in Minnesota, Favre now has a vertical threat down the field which will open up more options for Harvin from the slot and the athletic tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. Harvin is a threat from anywhere on the field. He will line up in the backfield, in the slot and out wide. He is a true weapon with the ball in his hands and Brad Childress creates opportunities for him to play a role in the offense.
For the second time this season, the Cowboys defense will face an elite running back. Adrian Peterson really needs no description. He is explosive, powerful and difficult to bring down one-on-one in the open field. Peterson can run the ball inside but is at his very best when he gets the ball on the edge.
This is not the most athletic line and they really try and lean and push on you more than run with you and cut you off. Peterson’s running style and ability makes his own opportunities.
The Cowboys are going to have to deal with Peterson in the passing game. The closer they get to the red zone, the more they like to get the ball in his hands on the screen or swinging out of the backfield.
If there is an advantage for the Cowboys, it will be against this group of tackles. Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt do not have the best feet and really struggle with rushers with quickness. If the Cowboys are going to have some success against this Vikings offense, it’s going to have to be off the edges.
*This will be the best defensive front seven that the Cowboys have faced so far this season. As productive as the Titans line was, this defensive line and linebacker corps are much more talented.
It really starts inside with tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams. Both will be a handful inside, but I should also include Jimmy Kennedy, who played well in the playoff game the last time these two clubs met.
Last week, the Cowboys played against an undersized front inside, but this group is powerful and difficult to move. The Cowboys had more success running the ball on the edges and again, that is where they are going to have to try and go.
Ray Edwards and Jared Allen are very good pass rushers. Edwards plays the run better than Allen, but where Allen gets you is rushing the passer. Since 2004, he has 73 sacks. The Cowboys need to be efficient staying ahead of the chains. The Vikings feed off offenses that struggle to keep up with down and distances.
Playing in the Metrodome is a huge advantage for the Vikings. When you studied the game last season, you could see Marc Colombo struggling to hear the snap count in passing situations, which gave Edwards a jump on the snap count.
The linebackers for the Vikings are a solid group. Chad Greenway, Ben Leber and E.J. Henderson are always around the football. Greenway has led the team in tackles in the last two seasons. Leber has accounted for 11 turnovers in his career and Henderson has 12.5 sacks for a career, which ranks fourth all-time among Vikings linebackers.
In the secondary, the Cowboys need to stay away from Antoine Winfield. He is an aggressive, ball-hawking corner that is a dependable tackler and a leader of the group. Winfield is a smart player that understands how to read routes. He will make a quarterback feel his receiver is open, then drive on the football when thrown. He doesn’t have good height but he can go vertical to play the ball in the air. When the Vikings go to the nickel, he will play the slot.
After studying the game tape, I believe the Cowboys will attack second-year pro Asher Allen. Allen had to come into the game against the Jets last week when Cedric Griffin was lost to a knee injury. Allen is not as physical of a player as Griffin and he will struggle with receivers that are physical. Don’t be one bit surprised if Jason Garrett finds a way to match up Miles Austin with Allen as much as he can. There are plays to be made there.
Veteran Lito Shepherd will also see action when the Vikings go to their nickel package.
This will be a huge test for the Cowboys on both sides of the ball. Moss gives the Vikings a whole new dynamic. But how healthy is Favre’s elbow? Can the Cowboys put behind them what happened in the playoffs in 2009?
If not, a 1-4 start is staring them in the face.