A pair of division winners with top 10 offenses and defenses will clash at Mall of America Field on Sunday when the Vikings host the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs. With 15 Pro Bowlers on these 2 rosters, there is no shortage of star power and fans will be treated to an explosive football game featuring 2 divisions winners from the conference.
The Vikings got here by virtue of their 1st-round bye, which was earned after going through their schedule and winning 12 of 16 games. A week of rest and rejuvenation is valuable at this time of year and the Vikings should benefit from fresh legs up and down the lineup.
On the flip side, the Cowboys enter this contest with a bunch of momentum, having won their last 4 games. Their last 2 wins came against division rival Philadelphia – a 24-0 Week 17 win to capture the NFC East crown and then a 34-14 victory last week to advance to the Divisional Round.
Dallas used an explosive passing game and productive running game to score 58 points against the Eagles the past 2 weeks. QB Tony Romo threw for 527 yards in the 2 wins and the Cowboys rushing game racked up 377 net yards. While Marion Barber III is the team’s workhorse, 2008 1st round draft choice Felix Jones can step in at RB and contribute in the running game as well as the passing game. Jones had 272 total yards and 2 TDs against the Eagles over the past 2 weeks.
During the regular season, the Cowboys offense ranked #2 in yards per game thanks to an explosive passing offense led by Romo and a 3-pronged rushing attack that included Tashard Choice along with Barber III and Jones. Dallas recorded 61 passing plays of 20+ yards on the season – 3rd best in the NFC – and they have a talented corps of receivers led by Pro Bowlers Miles Austin and Jason Witten and complemented by a big, physical target in Roy Williams and another slasher in Patrick Crayton.
Defensively, Dallas has a constant, heavy pass rush and stout run defense. OLB DeMarcus Ware registered 11.o sacks on the season and his bookend teammate – Anthony Spencer – had 6.0 sacks of his own. That fierce pass rush is complemented by a solid run defense that is the NFL’s 4th best and features a Pro Bowl NT in Jay Ratliff, who is constantly a disruptive force in the running game but also had 6.0 sacks on the season.
Against Philadelphia the last 2 weeks, this crew in the Cowboys front 7 dominated. Dallas registered 8 sacks of Eagles QB Donovan McNabb over the 2-game stretch and they held Philadelphia to just 93 total rushing yards. Dallas also played well in the back end of their defense, as CB Terence Newman led a secondary that for the most part contained the Eagles explosive passing game.
As you can see, the Vikings have a lot with which to contend from a personnel standpoint this week. But the Cowboys won’t be without their challenges, either. A few more subplots to consider when looking at this matchup…
– The Vikings have the advantage of playing this game at home, where their defense gains an edge thanks to the noise that makes it more difficult for the opposing offense to work. It’s important for the Mall of America crowd to be loud when DE Jared Allen and Co. are on the field and then it’s vital that the Vikings defense rises to the occasion and plays well against a powerful offense.
– Who will make a play on special teams? Austin and Jones are talented kick returners for Dallas, but the Vikings can counter with Percy Harvin and Darius Reynaud, along with solid coverage units. K Ryan Longwell has been solid for the Vikings all season.
– Will the Vikings be able to protect QB Brett Favre? Dallas has a great pass rush but the Vikings counter with a pair of solid OTs in Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt. It’s not fair to expect these 2 players to contain the Cowboys pass rushers, so what will the Vikings do from a schematic standpoint to counter the rush? Screen passes, draws, chip blocks, double teams, fading the guard, etc. All of these are possibilities.
– The middle of the field will be key for both offenses. Dallas would like to get Austin and Witten the ball in space and make the Vikings tackle them, something the Vikings defense has struggled with at times this season. Conversely, can the Cowboys cover Harvin and TE Visanthe Shiancoe down the middle?
– We’ve mentioned some of Dallas’ offensive play-makers, but what about the Vikings? RB Adrian Peterson would love to be a difference-maker against the team he grew up loving. WR Sidney Rice had a breakout regular season in 2009 and the Cowboys will need to find a way to contain him.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt, Ryan Longwell, Sidney Rice, Visanthe Shiancoe
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 9 Comments »