MINNEAPOLIS -- I know, I know. We spent much of last week discussing Minnesota’s shaky pass protection and its hit-or-miss home-field advantage. So let’s be clear from the top: Brett Favre had enough time to throw four touchdown passes Sunday, and the Metrodome has never been louder.
From my vantage point, however, neither dynamic told the story of the Vikings’ 34-3 victory. To me, it was this: Minnesota battered Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, resurrecting its pass rush just in time to face the NFL’s most explosive passing game for the right to play in Super Bowl XLIV.
The Vikings held Dallas’ offense to a season-low in total yardage (248) and first downs (16), in the process sacking Romo six times and unofficially hitting him on 10 other occasions.
“He was wide-eyed a lot,” defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. “We were getting after him from the start, and that’s what it’s going to take next week, too.”
Indeed, the Vikings will take on New Orleans’ top-ranked passing offense next Sunday at the Superdome. “If we do next week what we did today,” said cornerback Antoine Winfield, “we’ll be good.”
And what exactly did the Vikings do Sunday?
They harassed Romo into three turnovers; on a fourth opportunity, he recovered his own fumble.
Left end Ray Edwards beat right tackle Marc Colombo for three sacks before leaving with a sprained knee.
Right end Jared Allen, capitalizing on an injury to Cowboys left tackle Flozell Adams, finished with a sack, a forced fumble and another tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
In all, the Vikings' defensive line totaled five of the Vikings’ six sacks against a Cowboys group that seemed content to single block them for most of the game.
“They were trying to,” nose tackle Pat Williams said. “But we’ve got the best defensive line in the league. Doesn’t matter to us what anyone else says. We go into every game thinking that.”
The Vikings led the NFL with 48 sacks this season, but like the entire team, their pass rush slipped over the final five games. During that stretch, they managed eight sacks.
Sunday, Allen traced that downturn in production to a significant adjustment from opposing offenses.
“I know everyone thinks you should get three sacks a game,” he said. “but that’s just not reality. … [In that stretch], we saw a lot of mass protection, a lot of three-step [drops]. You’re getting chips from the tight end, chips from the back. When we’re rushing four and they’re blocking seven, you’re just not going to get there.”
The Cowboys, however, had different ideas. As he watched film during the Vikings’ recent bye week, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier noted how rarely the Cowboys kept tight end Jason Witten in the backfield to block. With Adams and two Pro Bowl players on their offensive line (center Andre Gurode and right guard Leonard Davis), the Cowboys didn’t seem to be likely candidates for double-teaming the Vikings’ defensive line.
“We liked our matchup from Day 1,” Allen said. “We thought there were some things we could take advantage of and we knew that because they had so much confidence in their offensive line, that we were going to get some opportunities. That’s exactly what happened.”
And it was clearly a mistake. Anyone who watched Sunday’s game can attest to how quickly Romo turned jittery. A quick recap:
Edwards ended the Cowboys’ first drive with a strip sack of Romo.
On Dallas’ second series, Romo recovered his own fumble on a 2nd-and-6 play, losing three yards. The Cowboys fell 1 yard short of converting the ensuing third down, and Shaun Suisham’s 48-yard field goal was wide left.
Should I go on? Edwards sacked Romo on 2nd-and-goal from the Vikings’ 8-yard line on the Cowboys’ third series. Romo still looked stunned when he threw incomplete on 3rd-and-15.
On the second play of his fourth possession, Romo lost a fumble on Allen’s sack.
“This game is not rocket science,” Romo said. “If they have the ability to get pressure from the front four, it allows you to play a pretty sound game defensively.”
How confident were the Vikings in their defense Sunday? Leading 17-3 at halftime, their offense went into a modified four-minute drill. In other words, they started trying to run out the clock. In their 13 third-quarter plays, Minnesota threw only four times.
Keep in mind, this was against a Cowboys offense that had scored 58 points in its past two games.
“They overlooked us,” Pat Williams said, “and that’s fine. Basically, that’s how they ride down there. I don’t blame them, I guess. They’re young. They can be cocky. They’ve got a cocky owner, so that’s how they ride. But they came into this dome, and it was hostile for them. ”
They’ll need a similar effort next Sunday in New Orleans, a topic I’m sure we’ll revisit once or twice this week.
“We skidded a little bit toward the end of the season,” Kevin Williams said. “And so all we heard last week was about Dallas. I’m sure all we’ll hear about this week is New Orleans. All that matters to us is that we played the way we are capable of. We just need a chance to get after them.”
That’s the story -- and we’re sticking to it.