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.
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.
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.