It's getting old. For three straight games now, the Cowboys have had their backs against the wall. They arrived in Houston with a 0-2 record and responded with a dominating performance; leaving with a 1-2 record. They took a week off, came back to face the Tennessee Titans at home, in what was sort of a must-win game. Instead of picking up where they left off, the Cowboys reverted to their mistake-prone selves, turning the ball over three times and amassing twelve penalties, and leaving Cowboys Stadium with a record of 1-3.
So, yet again, the Cowboys prepare for another game, with the season still on the line, with their backs still against the wall, and this time really in a must-win situation.
The Vikings, too, have underachieved this season, and like the Cowboys, are sitting at 1-3. Both teams will be looking to reassert themselves and remain in the playoff chase, as teams that slip to a 1-4 record have less than a five-percent chance of making the playoffs.
Match-ups and what to watch for, after the jump...
The Vikings offense has been stale through the first five weeks of the season (15.9 points per game). At the epicenter of this problem: Brett Favre. This season, Favre has thrown more picks than touchdowns (5 TDs - 7 INTs), completed less than 60-percent of his passes (56.5) and has struggled to get the ball downfield (6.6 yards per pass attempt).
In the divisional playoff game last season, the Cowboys keyed in on stopping running back Adrian Peterson, which they did effectively (26 carries for 63 yards). This resulted in a lot of single coverage for the Vikings wide-outs. Favre took advantage of this and tossed four touchdown passes on the day. Even though the Cowboys were burnt last time when they put the game in Favre's hands, they must do it again. This time round, Favre is a year older, has tendinitis in his throwing elbow, and is without his favorite target, Sidney Rice, whom he threw three of his four touchdown passes to in the divisional playoff game last January.
Of course, Favre now has Randy Moss to fill the void left by Rice. Although I do believe Moss will pose a threat to the Cowboys - as he always has for the last twelve seasons - I doubt it will be as significant as some presume. Moss touched down in Minny less than 14 days ago. His timing with Favre and knowledge of the playbook will be lacking.
What to watch for: I've got a couple of things that I believe you should keep your eye on during this week's game. Firstly, how the Cowboys decide to cover speedster and jack of all trades Percy Harvin. With Peterson and Moss garnering most of the defenses attention, Harvin may be left in some favorable match-ups. It'll be up to Wade Phillips to make sure these match-ups are not easily exploited by Favre.
Secondly, keep an eye on the Cowboys blitz packages. Favre has been dreadful against the blitz this season (60.0 quarterback rating). Phillips' blitzes, by in large, are usually ineffective. He likes to send a lot of double barrel A-gap blitzes from the two inside ‘backers, but rarely chooses to get his defensive backs involved. Phillips will have to get more creative with his blitzes and the players will have to time them better than usual. If this can be accomplished, the defense will be able to force Favre into making some mistakes.
When you hear about the Vikings defense, you hear about the Williams Wall, the great front seven they have. You also hear about how they have question marks in the secondary. Really, though, it should be the other way round. Yes, the Vikings defense as a whole has played great this season, but it has been their secondary that has shown up, not the run defense. This season, they have allowed 185.0 pass yards per game, good for fifth in the league. On the other hand, they have allowed 104.2 rushing yards per game, which sits them at 15th in the league.
The Cowboys will be able to find yards on the ground, if they look for them.
I'm not concerned about Doug Free in this game. Some analysts will say he was the reason the Cowboys lost to the Vikings last January. But, if one looks at the tape, it is glaringly obvious that Free was not the problem in that game. Marc Colombo and Leonard Davis do concern me, though. Colombo not so much, as he is now fully healthy and will be determined to have a good game against left defensive end Ray Edwards, to redeem himself. Davis, however, is the biggest concern. He was benched against the Titans in the first-half last week after being repeatedly beaten by defensive tackle Jason Jones, twice resulting in Tony Romo being sacked. This week Davis faces another athletic defensive tackle, in Kevin Williams. It is highly unlikely that he will be able to handle the quickness of Williams, which is why it will be up to Romo and Jason Garrett to create a game-plan that does not include many seven-step drops or stretch running plays to the right.
What to watch for: If Dez Bryant is able to play, there will be opportunities for him to make big plays. Cornerback Cedric Griffin was placed on injured-reserve this week after tearing his ACL in the loss to the New York Jets. The Vikings will now be forced to start Lito Sheppard across from Antoine Winfield, with Chris Cook and Asher Allen backing up. Both players are inexperienced (15-games played, combined), and if Bryant is able to garner a match-up with either, big plays will be attainable. (His ankle-injury is an X-factor, as it could impede his running and cutting ability).