DALLAS vs. MINNESOTA
Kickoff: Noon, AT&T Stadium
TV: Noon, FOX
Radio: 9 a.m., 105.3 The Fan
Records: Dallas 4-4, Minnesota 1-6
Series: Series tied, 14-14
Last meeting: Minnesota, 24-21 (2010, in Minnesota)
Betting line: Dallas -10
Weather: 69 degrees, 0% chance of rain
Last week was a gut punch of a game for the Cowboys. The question is: How will they bounce back against the lowly Vikings? Minnesota has lost three in a row including a 23-7 loss to the Giants. On the other hand, the Cowboys injury report list is a who’s who of gridiron players: Miles Austin (hamstring), Barry Church (hamstring), Morris Claiborne (hamstring), Lance Dunbar (hamstring), Dwayne Harris (hip), DeMarco Murray (knee), George Selvie (shoulder), DeMarcus Ware (thigh) Brian Waters (entire body) and J.J. Wilcox (knee). Jerry Jones is going to need a lot of duct tape to patch these holes in the ship. Let’s see how these two teams match up:
Dallas offense vs. Minnesota defense
With the news that Brian Waters is out for the season, someone needs to Photoshop Tony Romo in the iconic scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones is running for his life. Last week, Romo completed less than 50% of his passes, but threw three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The absence of DeMarco Murray the last several weeks has left this offense one-dimensional as the running game now ranks 27th in the NFL.
It seems like every week the Cowboys face a terrible defense and this week is no different as the Vikings are 30th in the league ahead of Philadelphia and Dallas. Against the Packers, Minnesota gave up 282 yards passing and 182 yards rushing. Green Bay was also a ridiculous 13-18 on third downs. Dallas should have no problem scoring points.
Dallas defense vs. Minnesota offense
The good: Sean Lee was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October and is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions. The Cowboys are also tied for first in the NFC with a +9 turnover margin. The bad: Dallas gave up 24 fourth quarter points and 623 yards to the Lions last week. The defense is now dead last in the league by allowing more than 422 yards per game. If Dallas is ever going to have the edge against an offense, it would be Minnesota.
The Vikings are 29th in the league in total offense and even though they have the greatest running back on the planet in Adrian Peterson, they rank 17th in rushing offense. QB Christian Ponder started his first game in more than a month last week against Green Bay and managed to only throw for 145 yards with zero touchdowns. On the season, Ponder has two touchdowns and five interceptions. Peterson has two 100-yard rushing games and one of those was the only game the Vikings won this season (Week 4 vs. Pittsburgh).
At this point in the season, the defensive line is held together with bailing wire, but the team is managing to obtain turnovers and should get at least two against this Minnesota team.
Adrian Peterson vs. Dallas front seven: Despite how poor the Dallas pass defense has been playing, Ponder will do minimal damage this Sunday. Last week, Detroit’s superstar Calvin Johnson had a record-setting performance with 14 receptions, 329 yards and a touchdown. How will the Vikings’ superstar fare this week? The key will be Dallas jumping out to an early lead, which forces Minnesota to abandon the run. In the last three weeks, Peterson has 13 carries or less in each game.
Dwayne Harris was fantastic again on special teams last week as he averaged more than 37 yards per kickoff return and over 12 yards on punt returns. Dan Bailey was perfect on three field goals while punter Chris Jones averaged nearly 45 yards per punt and had three punts inside the 20-yard line. Minnesota features an elite kick returner in rookie Cordarrelle Patterson who has two touchdowns on returns this season and averaging 39.1 yards per return. Punt returner Marcus Sherels also has a punt return for touchdown and averaging more than 15 yards per return. Second-year kicker Blair Walsh is 10-12 on the season on field goals. If there is an opportunity for Minnesota to stay in this game, it will be via special teams.
Last week was a brutal game for anybody associated with the Cowboys organization, and unfortunately these types of games have become all too common in recent memory. Luckily, the Cowboys return home to play a downtrodden Minnesota team that is playing for draft position at this point in the season.
Did You Know?
The term “Hail Mary” with regards to football vernacular became a well-known phrase after Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach (a Roman Catholic) said about his game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson in a December 28, 1975, playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings, "I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary."
If you ask Vikings’ fans about that game, they will be quick to tell you that Pearson pushed off the All-Pro cornerback Nate Wright to catch that ball, but Pearson is on record saying:
"I used that swim move that receivers use to get inside position on defensive backs. There was contact with Nate Wright, but there was no deliberate push."
I’m sure most die-hard Cowboys’ fans know this story, but for the young at heart, this factoid is for you.
The More You Know…
Prediction: Dallas 35, Minnesota 24
Eddie Middlebrook is the co-host of “Chin Music” and VP of Media for ShutDowninning. He can be reached at Eddie.Middlebrook@ShutDowninning.com or on Twitter @emiddlebrook