Dallas Cowboys: Ray Edwards

Grudge Match: Cowboys-Vikings

October, 16, 2010

Here are key matchups for the Cowboys' game Sunday in Minnesota:

Cowboys’ offensive line vs. Vikings’ front four: This is where the game will be won or lost for the Cowboys. If they show an inability to handle the noise and do not control the Vikings along the defensive front, the Cowboys are in for a long day.

Along with Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City or Qwest Field in Seattle, the Metrodome is one of the most difficult places for an opponent to navigate. At the Metrodome, the crowd is in full throat and the noise slams from the roof back to the field. There are fireworks, motorcycled mascots and a “Viking horn” that is sounded when the home team makes a big play. If you hear that horn during a game, there is usually something bad happening to your team.

Tony Romo
Bruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireThe Vikings sacked Tony Romo six times the last time the Cowboys visited the Metrodome.
Last time these two teams met, the Vikings took advantage of the situation and sacked Tony Romo six times. The sacks were shared by the linebackers and the defensive line, with defensive end Ray Edwards getting three.

The Cowboys need to stay ahead of the chains here. They need to run the ball with purpose and effectiveness. The Vikings have two tackles in Pat Williams and Kevin Williams that are difficult to move. Where the Cowboys had some success in the last meeting was running the ball on the edges at Jared Allen and Edwards. Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett and Scott Chandler need to secure theses edges and allow Marc Colombo and Doug Free to get on support.

If the Cowboys have to throw the ball on every play, they are going to run into problems. I will say this: The Vikings have struggled with their sack numbers this season with only six coming into this game. The Cowboys need to do everything in their power not to have a repeat performance from last season.

Cowboys nickelback Orlando Scandrick vs. Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin: Harvin is an explosive player for the Vikings and when he comes out of the slot, he creates even more problems.

Scandrick didn’t play one of his better games last week, but to his credit, he plays one of the most difficult positions on defense and that is as the nickel corner on the slot. Why is slot the most difficult position to handle? The receiver has the ability to take you all over the field. In football terms, a two-way go.

On the outside you can use the sideline as an extra defender. In the slot, you are really on an island.

Harvin is one of those guys that Brad Childress likes to move around all over the formation, much like what the Cowboys do with Miles Austin. Harvin motions into the backfield, lines up in the slot, or even outside. The Cowboys like to play a great deal of man coverage in nickel, so one-on-one coverage is what the defensive backs deal with the majority of the time.

Harvin is a fearless player and will take his routes inside when needed. He leads the Vikings with three touchdowns receiving. With the addition of Randy Moss to the lineup and his ability to get down the field, watch Harvin on the underneath to intermediate passes. Favre likes to try and get him the ball on the move and let his football skills take over.

Scandrick was a standup guy last week after the Titans game but knows he will need to be much better with his technique against a player with the skills of Harvin.

Cowboys run defense against Vikings running back Adrian Peterson: From my experience of being with Favre in Green Bay, the more he hurt, the better he played. But this is a much older Favre and now he has tendonitis in his throwing elbow and has missed some time at practice this week and hopes that rest will help.

The best tonic this week for Favre’s sore elbow will be the legs of Adrian Peterson.

For the second week in a row, the Cowboys will face an elite running back. Last week, it was the speed and quickness of Chris Johnson. This week, it’s the speed, quickness and power of Peterson that they must deal with.

The amazing thing when you study the Vikings is that the offense line really isn’t all that good or mobile, and despite this Peterson is able to continually gain yards. He is one of those rare players that can make you look so bad on defense. Peterson is a downhill runner and does not shy away from contact. Peterson can take the ball inside with power or work it quickly around the corner.

The Vikings like to use him in the red zone on screens and swings in the passing game. If the Cowboys can be stout in the running game then it puts pressure on a less than healthy Favre to carry this offense.

There is no doubt in my mind that Brad Childress will test this Cowboys defense to try and see if he can protect his quarterback’s elbow and potential hits. Peterson is averaging over 120 yards a game in 2010, if the Cowboys don’t play physically up front on Sunday, he will have that and more.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Vikings preview

October, 15, 2010

The Minnesota defense dominated the last time the Cowboys and Vikings met.

Scout's Eye
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.
It's six months later, but we're still assigning blame for the playoff meltdown in Minnesota.

Most of it has fallen at the massive feet of the Cowboys' offensive line. That tends to happen when a team has twice as many sacks allowed (six) as points scored. (Not to mention the other 10 times Romo was hit or the 11 tackles for losses by the Vikings.)

Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode was asked ever so gently during his appearance on ESPN 103.3's Galloway and Company whether the offensive line's performance in that game was as awful as it appeared.

"I would say as a very truthful answer, we had a bad game," Gurode said. "They did a lot of things against our protections that they took advantage of. Most of the times, it wasn’t the offensive line’s fault. It may have been what we were supposed to do, and they brought pressure from another spot that we couldn’t pick up."

That sure sounds like a guy calling out the coaching staff, much like Tony Romo did after the season-ending Philly Flop the previous season.

However, Gurode set a world backpedaling record for the 300-plus-pound weight class when it was suggested that he was pointing the finger at the offensive coordinator Jason Garrett or offensive line coach Hudson Houck.

"No, it’s not the coaches’ fault. Do not say that," Gurode said. "It’s not the coaches’ fault. We just did not play well enough to win the game."

The truth is that there is enough blame to go around. Right tackle Marc Colombo, who rushed back from a broken fibula for the playoffs, might have had his worst game as a Cowboy, with Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards racking up three sacks and four tackles for losses. The coaching staff screwed up by twice leaving Jason Witten one-on-one against All-Pro Jared Allen, resulting in a tackle for loss and a sack.

There's no question that the inability to protect Romo has been a primary reason the Cowboys' season ended in embarrassing fashion for two straight years. Who deserves the lion's share of the blame is up for debate.

(In an effort to avoid having a 320-pound Pro Bowler perturbed at me, I'll point out that Gurode is hosting a charity weekend to benefit his Center of Attention. Click here for more details of the weekend, which is highlighted by a kickball game Saturday.)

Adams' injury isn't an excuse

January, 17, 2010
MINNEAPOLIS -- It did not help the Cowboys' cause when LT Flozell Adams left the game with a strained right calf in the second quarter.

However, it'd be a real stretch to say Adams' absence was one of the primary reasons the Cowboys were routed.

"He’s one of the best left tackles in the league and has been for a long time, but Doug Free had played," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. "He’s played for six or seven weeks when Marc [Colombo] was out. He stepped in, and you’ve just got to go forward. I think we’ve done a good job handling the different injuries that have come up, so you put the next guy in and go forward."

Free, like most tackles, had trouble with All-Pro DE Jared Allen. Free did not get dominated, though.

Allen had one sack, and that came on a play that was designed to have TE Jason Witten blocking him one-on-one. That's poor strategy, not a problem with the left tackle. The Cowboys paid with a turnover when Allen jarred the ball loose with a violent hit on Tony Romo's blind side.

But it was Ray Edwards, the other end, who really gave the Cowboys fits. He had three sacks, four tackles for losses, six hurries and a forced fumble. RT Colombo was overmatched.

Maybe if Adams didn't get injured, the Cowboys would have replaced Colombo with Free. Maybe the Cowboys would have continued running right at Allen with success.

But this wasn't a game that was decided by the play at one position.