FISH on FOOTBALL: The 7 Secrets Of Highly Successful Cowboys And Vikings

Years ago, I successfully persuaded my newspaper to do away with the trite space-filler known as "The Match-Up Chart.'' You know, the one with the checkmarks that give an "edge'' to Adrian Peterson over Marion Barber (as if they are boxing each other) or to Dallas' special teams over Minnesota's (as if the potential contributions of dozens and dozens of men could be reduced to a sportswriter's checkmark and a quip).

What I thought was a better way then - and hope it works now - is to instead try to apply some actual insight into the way the individuals, position groups and teams would react when colliding.

 

So here goes, my personal personnel hints ... The Seven Secrets Of Highly Successful Cowboys and Vikings:

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1. Adrian Peterson does not like to run LEFT.

I actually think the NFL hasn't fully caught onto this yet. But it was the case at Palestine (Texas) High and it was the case at Oklahoma and it still shows up - if you know to watch for it - even now as A.D. has established himself as an All-Pro running back.

He leans RIGHT.

His best blocker is left guard Steve Hutchinson, and so it's not like Peterson and the Vikes are failures there. Rafael points out that the Vikings running game is essentially left-handed, and that's due to Hutch.

But Adrian Peterson isn't left-handed.

Peterson prefers his plays are called to the right, he takes runs that are designed to run to the left and instinctively (maybe even prematurely) cuts them to the right, he's more comfortably catching balls out of the backfield when arching right ... he's almost like a basketball player who favors dribbling and shooting with a certain hand.

I haven't studied the following, but I'd be willing to guess that an inordinate number of Peterson's infamous fumbles - now that he's become slightly less robotic as a pass-catcher, fumbles are the only weakness in his game - have come because of how often he carries the ball in his right hand even when he's running left, a RB's cardinal sin. But that's how pronounced his "lean'' is.

It would aid the Cowboys defense greatly to have some awareness of all of this.

2. Brinkley likes to "blow up'' instead of "wrap up.''

When Minnesota lost middle linebacker E.J. Henderson to that nasty leg injury in the late-season Arizona game, the Vikings were confident that the standout would be ably replaced by rookie Jasper Brinkley. Their reasoning? Brinkley is a fearless hitter who can intimidate with his knack for the knockout blow.

Problem is, the kid wants to "blow you up'' instead of "wrap you up.'' And if he doesn't get his fundamentals screwed down tight here, he's going to try to deliver a kill shot on, say, Jason Witten, and the next thing you know, Witten will be pinballing his way downfield for a 20-yard run-and-catch.

3. What Miles Austin does best won't work against Minnesota's corners.

Don't get me wrong; the Pro Bowler Austin does so many things well. ... but what separates him from the pack is his tackle-breaking ability. Against the NFL's "matador'' DBs, the "cover corners,'' he bulls through them.

Austin, as you know, was good for 81 catches for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns ... and 21 of those catches were for 20 or more yards, so many times because Miles' strength and will made it so.

But the Vikes think that's less likely to happen against the Minnesota tandem of Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield.

Griffin is a middling player. But he tackles like a safety. Austin will get catches against him, but he might not get YAC. Winfield's foot is bothering him, but Antoine is a little stud, a mighty mite who tackles surely and ferociously.

This is strength against strength here. ... Unless Austin just runs by the Vikings CBs, which happened with some frequency in the final month of Minnesota's season.

4. Percy Harvin is an Adrian Peterson Mini-Me.

Harvin is still learning how to be an NFL wide receiver - it's a crash course in Minnesota as the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year is also learning how to execute some Wildcat stuff, how to run reverses, how to come out of the backfield. ... but he is powering his way through the learning curve because this isn't a wide receiver.

Percy Harvin is a running back.

Oh, he has the grace and hands and speed and fearlessness of a great slot receiver, and he already is that. He also has the benefit of running routes with veteran speedster Bernard Berrian and Moss-like playmaker Sidney Rice. (Minny is just the second team in NFL history with six players to have 40 catches or more.) But Harvin is different: Watch him on kick returns (or, if the Cowboys and David Buehler have their way, don't bother, and you avoid the 27.5 yards per and the two TDs during the regular season) and watch him on slants and screens: The first tackler almost literally never takes him down. Harvin is an explosive and punishing runner who doesn't play his position like Wes Welker.

He plays it like he's simply a miniature version of Adrian Peterson.

5. Which left tackle is going to get Julius Peppered?

Minnesota's Bryant McKinnie is certainly no weak link (actually, that would be right guard Anthony Herrera, who struggles to get any push at all on running plays). McKinnie was a high first-round pick and is a Pro Bowler. But in the Vikings' loss to Carolina, McKinnie was so dominated by Peppers, and so perplexed by him, that the coaching staff actually benched the left tackle.

Dallas' Flozell Adams has that hearing problem that might come into play in the noisy Metrodome. (Oddly, his six false starts are matched by Jason Witten, so maybe volume bugs the great tight end, too.) But Flozell's big concern should be the occasional trouble he has with speed-rushers. So here they come: Jared Allen and Ray Edwards and even tackle Kevin Williams for Minnesota. (A group that, along with "Fat Pat'' Williams somehow completely plugs up the run while also racking up league-leading sack numbers.)

Important numerical note, I think: Flozell has given up eight sacks in 17 games. Jared Allen has 9.5 sacks in eight home games. On paper, that doesn't bode well for Flo; he'll need help.

Meanwhile. ... Here they come, too: DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer and even Jay Ratliff for Dallas. A group so effective that now they are almost counted on to tally up four sacks a game, with those three totaling 24 for the year. A group so effective that they get pressure with just four guys. There are 11-plus reasons for Dallas having given up just two TDs in 12 quarters, but the reasons start up there.

As I wrote earlier this week, the Vikings have numerous personnel options to help pass-block. Backup tight end Jim Kleinsasser is really an O-lineman with a cooler jersey number. Chester Taylor, the backup RB, used to come in all the time on third down, not only because he's a sure-handed and crafty receiver, but also because of his chip-block ability. I can tell you that Vikings fans groan when coach Brad Childress tells Chester to enter ... because it means the Vikings are voluntarily removing from the field the man Minny fans think is NFL's most dangerous weapon.

Anyway, the athleticism upfront for these defenses is amazing. There will be help, from Witten, from Taylor, from Kleinsasser. ... but the pressure is largely on each offensive left tackle to cork that athleticism.

6. You don't have to contain Brett Favre anymore.

By "contain,'' I mean "keep him in the pocket.'' Over the course of Favre's brilliant career, his gifts as a mobile creator gave defenses fits. But now, at his advanced age, he's morphed into a pocket passer, an executor of a West Coast-style offense. And when he is flushed, he absolutely, positively refuses to run upfield. This allows great freedom to a defense; there's not the usual concern about holding lanes and such.

Fortunately for Minnesota, Favre-as-pocket-passer has meant his finest statistical season ever (33 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a career-high107.2 QB rating). Heck, maybe he shouldn't have spent all those years running around like that.

7. There is no head-to-head precedent here.

Favre's career record against Dallas? How can results from a decade-and-a-half and three teams ago possibly come into play here. The Vikings' offensive similarities to Philly? My friend Calvin Watkins attempted to draw parallels over at ESPNDallas.com ("Rice is like Maclin'' and "Westbrook is like Peterson''? Really, Calvin?!) but the parallels are painfully absent. Wade Phillips and Brad Childress as playoff coaching flops? Immaterial here. Which team is "hotter''? Which team is providing bulletin-board material? Minnesota seeking revenge for "Hail Mary''?

All foolishness.

The Vikings hope being 8-0 at home and 10-0 on turf matters. The Cowboys hope the cohesiveness that's resulted from being "Romo-friendly'' matters.

But there is no head-to-head precedent. There is no viable comparison. There won't be any checkmarks - not in this space.

And as for the game, when it comes to "edges,'' I bet they'll be slim ones.

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