This is part seven of 11 in my playoff preview series. To read the other six click on them below:
This game is intriguing for a few reasons. The Cowboys finally got that playoff monkey off of their back, and now it’s Brett Favre’s turn to see if he can get the monkey off of his back because everyone is wondering if his arm can hold up long enough to win a playoff game, nonetheless a Super Bowl. Unfortunately this preview is probably going to be a little shorter than my others have been due to the fact that I am going bananas right now after the Colts huge win over the Ravens. With that said, let’s dive right in.
The Cowboys need to use their amazing group of running backs and attack Jared Allen. You heard me right, attack him. Allen is one of the best pass-rushers in the league, but you can use that against him on running plays. If he gets up field quickly (which he normally does) then it would put a hole where he was and him behind the running back. Unfortunately Flozell Adams is the most liable blocker on the Cowboys o-line, and he’s the one going up against Jared Allen. This could be a big problem in both the run game and the passing game.
However, if Adams can step his game up a bit on Allen and give Tony Romo a bit more time in the pocket on passing plays then Romo should be able to eat up the Minnesota secondary that is subject to being picked on. Eight different players had receptions for Dallas last week against Philly and it proved to just be too many weapons for that secondary to handle, which will likely hold true for the Minnesota as well, especially considering how obvious of a weakness their secondary becomes when they’re in their sub packages. Another weakness that the Cowboys will likely look to exploit is middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley. Having him lined up against Jason Witten or any of the running backs would be a huge mismatch, but it’s likely what the Vikings will be forced to do.
What the Cowboys need to look out for is all the pressure the Vikings are likely to bring. They led the league in sacks during the regular season and Romo has a reputation (though he’s starting to get rid of it) of not performing well in the face of a blitz. The Vikings really don’t even need to blitz to get pressure, which is even scarier for Romo & Co. However if the o-line can get some relatively decent protection and Romo can stay cool when they fail to and avoid panicking and turning the ball over then that will be huge for them. Look for a lot of screens to be utilized by the Cowboys in this game to help out with this, especially screens to Miles Austin.
Defensively the Cowboys must win at the line. I believe nose tackle Jay Ratliff will be a huge task for center John Sullivan, and will likely prove to be too much for him. The Vikings o-line is probably the weakness on their offense, especially in the run game. Favre is good at avoiding sacks, but he is susceptible to being for forced into throwing interceptions. Also, Adrian Peterson kind of slowed down toward the end of the year, so he should have a tough time getting anything going if the Cowboys win in the trenches. Who wins the battle of Cowboys d-line (plus their blitzing linebackers) against the Vikings o-line could end up being the deciding factor on who wins this game.
On the Vikings side of things they have a ton of weapons, just like the Cowboys do. Brett Favre is great at utilizing the vast and varying skill sets of his receiving targets in Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, and Visanthe Shiancoe. This could prove to be a big problem for the Cowboys, who will likely use a lot of cover 2 and cover 4 to try and guard all of these receivers. Terrence Newman also isn’t a great man coverage guy so look for the Vikings to try and set up packages where he is forced to go one-on-one with a receiver. Also look for this passing game to exploit the less-than-amazing safeties that the Cowboys bring to the table.
And I haven’t even mentioned Adrian Peterson yet, who could turn it back on at any point. His o-line will need to pick up their game as well, but All Day is still All-World and very dangerous. The Vikings have turned into somewhat of a pass first offense, which I think could be their downfall. The reason this fit was supposed to work with Favre is because he wouldn’t have to throw as much and his arm would wear down by this point in the season, but Favre actually had MORE pass attempts this year than he did last year and was only four short as having as many as he did the previous year with the Packers. That’s not good. Either way, this will be a tough team for Adrian Peterson to have a bounce-back game against. Ever since Keith Brooking joined this defense it has had a different tone against the run and stop it extremely well.
The Vikings will also need to watch out for the Cowboys blitzing group of linebackers. The Vikings have big, strong offensive tackles but they aren’t exactly fast nor are they quick to get out of their stance. DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are the opposite however, both being very athletic, fast and quick, especially when pass-rushing. The Vikings MUST find away to balance out that mismatch or Brett Favre will end up with a very dirty jersey by the end of the game.
Finally we get to special teams. The Vikings are great in the return game with Percy Harvin but the Cowboys are great in both kickoffs and the punting game, so this will be an interesting battle. There are some question marks surrounding the Cowboys field goal kicking but that can change from game to game. I give the Vikings the overall advantage in special teams, which could be huge. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the play on special teams have a big impact on the outcome of this game.
I really don’t know who I think will win this game. Both teams have a TON of weapons on offense and both teams are known for have a very solid defense. There are clear strengths and weaknesses for both teams and obvious advantages and disadvantages that they have over one another. This could be a defensive struggle with both teams scoring rarely or it could be a shoot out or it could even be a blow out by either team. I look for both quarterbacks to have near identical stat lines: just over 250 yards, 2 TDs and a pick and rating right around 100 and both will be sacked at least two or three times. Look for both running games to have around 100 yards as well. This is just going to be determined by so many small factors that if any one goes one way or the other could have a massive influence over the outcome of this game. This might be the toughest game I’ve had to pick so far, but here it is…
Cowboys win it 27-24.
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