Here on the ESPN Blog Network, we’re bracing ourselves for quite possibly the biggest divisional playoff game in the history of the 2010 postseason. Come Sunday afternoon at the Metrodome, Dallas and Minnesota will reprise a storied postseason rivalry -- sans (hopefully) whiskey bottles, push-offs and Hail Marys. (Well, at least the push-offs.)
ESPN.com's Matt Mosley and Kevin Seifert have spent most of the week buried in the film room -- er, basement -- refining the blogging plan for the rest of the week. As now they’re ready to start breaking down this most critical game.
Kevin Seifert: Greetings from the North Pole, Matt. Actually, you’re going to get lucky this weekend. We’re expecting unseasonably warm temperatures here this weekend, with highs in the 30s. Normally we call that “May” in Minnesota. Usually at this time of year, you can get frostbite on half your hand while walking from the parking lot to the media entrance at the Dome.
Matt Mosley: I will look for any excuse to visit Minneapolis in mid-January and this game is as good as anything else I might come up with. Sid Hartman and I have been waiting on this postseason matchup for years. Jerry Jones tried to capture the "charm" of the Metrodome in his new Cowboys Stadium, but I'm not sure things worked out. And by the way, Drew Pearson told me to pass along his best wishes to Vikings fans.
KS: OK, Matt. Let’s get down to it. Everyone in the world thinks the Cowboys are going to win this game. Even ESPN’s Trent Dilfer is convinced of it. You’ve been close to the Cowboys this season. Are they as hot as everyone says they are?
MM: Kevin, in my eight years of covering the team, I've never been around a more confident bunch of players. I think they're the hottest team in the NFC right now because of something that took place last month in New Orleans. The players got sick and tired of all the talk of their December failures and went out and overwhelmed a Saints team in the Superdome. That game did wonders for the Cowboys' confidence. No quarterback in the playoffs has performed as well as Tony Romo over the past six games and he benefits from having a dominant defense. So yes, I think the Cowboys are as hot as everyone at the Mall of America is indicating.
KS: Actually, Matt, you need to be more specific. We now have Mall of America Field here in addition to the Mall of America. At Mall of America Field, the conversation is revolving around two things: Are the Vikings willing to accept that they are a pass-first offense? And can their tackles, Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt, keep DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer at bay long enough for Brett Favre to get the ball downfield?
If they come out of the gates aggressively and use their full array of offensive weapons, I think they can put up some serious points against the Cowboys' defense. The Vikings are one of two teams in NFL history to have six players catch at least 40 passes. That’s too many receivers for any defense to keep track of if the pass protection is there.
What’s your take, Matt? Do you think Ware & Co. can be slowed down?
MM: I agree with the aforementioned Dilfer that Loadholt and McKinnie are outmatched by the Cowboys' outside linebackers. Since the last time you saw this team, Spencer has become a force. Cowboys defensive coordinator/head coach Wade Phillips even lines them up next to each other at times. Donovan McNabb didn't have a chance against the Cowboys' pass rush and you can argue that Jason Peters and Winston Justice are superior offensive tackles to what the Vikings have to offer. The Cowboys' plan is to make sure Favre has to test those 40-year-old legs. The last time he saw this defense, he completed 5 of 14 passes and was intercepted twice before being knocked out of the game at Texas Stadium. He was of course with a 10-1 Packers team at the time in '07. Keith Brooking told me Tuesday that the Eagles and Vikings have similar offenses, but he alluded to the fact that Brad Childress is much more likely to use the running game than his mentor, Andy Reid. Of course, that's a lot easier to do when you have the pride of Palestine, Texas, Adrian Peterson, in your backfield. It's been quite a while since a team has put up points on this defense -- and that includes a Chargers team that was held to a season-low in points. I don't think we'll have a shootout on our hands, but Sid might have other ideas.
KS: I'll check with Sid when I see him. In the meantime, Matt, we have two elephants crowding the room for this game: The head coaches. In Minnesota, there is an unspoken fear that Brad Childress will get in the way and try to force his power running game on the Cowboys. Prior to Favre’s arrival, and at times this year, that has been Childress’ preference. Childress also made a couple of questionable game-management decisions in last year’s playoff loss to Philadelphia.
On the other side, however, is Phillips. Do Minnesota fans have anything to fear in this matchup?
MM: Calling Phillips an elephant is a low blow, Kevin. The man might fill out a pair of Russell coaching shorts, but he deserves better from you. And yes, there's reason for Vikings fans to fear The Wade. No matter what you say about his head-coaching credentials, he's always been an excellent defensive coordinator. He puts players in position to succeed and he does a superb job of exploiting weaknesses. From reading your fine work on a regular basis, I'm aware that Vikings center John Sullivan isn't a large man. He'll be facing one of the best nose tackles in the game in Jay Ratliff. From time to time, the behemoth-type centers give Ratliff a little trouble. But he's been known to destroy the guys who are close to his size. Everyone's focused on the offensive tackles, but I could see the "Ratt" having a big game in the middle. It all starts with him in this defense.
KS: Interesting. OK, Matt. This was great but is only a step in our coverage plan for this week. Keep checking back on the NFC East and NFC North blogs through Sunday.
MM: Just to be honest, my coverage plan for Saturday is a little weak because of travel. But I've thoroughly enjoyed this tremendous show of synergy within the NFL Blog Network. Kevin, I arrive at 8:10 local time on American, so please pass that along to my driver. Peace and courage from the Beast.