Preseason Cowboys @ Vikings: Storylines And Predictions

The Dallas Cowboys travel to face the Minnesota Vikings in Week 3 of the NFL preseason, the "dress rehearsal." Coach Jason Garrett explained the starters will play the entire first half and possibly into the third quarter. This is usually the one preseason game that does not concentrate on playbook installation and instead reviews the opponent and creates a weekly game-plan. Leslie Frazier, coach of the Vikings, said as much... 

Peterson and the starters are expected to play into the third quarter in the only preseason game for which the coaches prepared a game plan. Most of the starters will then rest for the preseason finale next Thursday against Houston.

Interestingly enough, there are preseason similarities with both the Cowboys and Vikings that could have the two teams looking to take advantage of some common weak links. Let's take a look at what advantages each team may be targeting and perhaps glimpse into their likely game plan.

Controlling the Line of Scrimmage:

Healthy doses of Felix Jones and Adrian Peterson are certainly prescribed for this matchup, but the interesting story for both teams is found along the offensive lines. The Cowboys will have rookies Bill Nagy and David Arkin battling for the left guard spot, and at right guard the Vikings see the return of 31-year old Anthony Herrara from reconstructive knee surgery. The Cowboys will be testing rookie phenom Tyron Smith at tackle while the Vikings will be without tackle (former) phenom Bryant MicKinnie for the first time since 2002.

Along the defensive lines, both teams have some question marks. The Vikings are without both Williams man-giants (one unsigned/retired, the other injured) and will be testing young guys like Letroy Guion alongside former Cowboy Remi Ayodele, but will be relying on getting pressure from defensive ends Brian Robison and Jared Allen. The Cowboys will be testing their own depth along the defensive line as the starting rotations still seem up in the air and some surprising young guys could get the call to line up in the place of Marcus Spears (out with injury). I will certainly keep an eye out and expect to see a few 2-man fronts with Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent and/or Sean Lissemore (having a quiet but very impressive preseason).

The battle in the trenches could get interesting. Of course, seeing how Free and (maybe) Smith hold up against Allen should be a show, both teams may be testing the middle of the opponents defensive line with plenty of runs up the middle.  Both defenses could be targeting blitzes at the unsettled offensive guard spot for both teams, while the new tackles for each will also be tested.

The Passing Game:

Cornerback concerns exist for both teams. The Cowboys have dealt with injuries to their starters, while the Vikings have their own share of players injured (some returning from serious injuries) and are looking to find an in-house promotion for the third cornerback role. Orlando Scandrick just got a new contract and Donovan McNabb will want to test his worth and that of the Cowboys depleted depth chart with starters Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins still out of action. Another reason to test the "advantage" is the quarterback competition brewing in Minnesota for the backup role between the versatile Joe Webb and rookie Christian Ponder.

This may be a coaching opportunity Frazier emphasizes in tonight's game, especially since the #3 wide receiver spot is up for grabs in MIN as well with Greg Camarillo and Devin Aromashodu in a heated competition. And, of course, only making matters worse will be Adrian Peterson testing the corners' ability to tackle as well. The Cowboys veteran (starting) safeties will have to have a good game to help support against the run and pass, and fans and coaches should find out a lot about the young players in the secondary fighting for a roster spot.

Similarly, Jason Garrett may want to test his wide receiver depth against a starting defense and try to take advantage of MIN third corner Chris Cook. He's fighting to win a starting role on the outside when veteran Antoine Winfield kicks in to play the slot in the nickel. The Vikings are also looking for a starting strong safety and Garrett could look to take advantage by throwing to Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett, and some other talented tight ends in John Phillips and Martin Rucker (Author's note: I expect to see a lot of multiple tight end sets this season). MIN also has three injured linebackers including Jasper Brinkley, they could be tested with the tight ends and short passes to Felix Jones and company when faced with a strong defensive line and Jared Allen rushing the passer.

Predictions:

Minnesota - With Toby Gerhart out with an injury, Adrian will get plenty of touches to test the Cowboys questions at d-line (especially since his load has been light in other preseason games). But I expect to see a lot of passing as the quarterback situation in MIN needs a lot of evaluation, and the Cowboys corners could be taken advantage of while finding the #3 wide receiver for the Vikings. With the variety of Rob Ryan blitzes and defensive looks, this won't be easy and the Vikings will likely look to throws to the backs and quick receiver routes to compensate.

Cowboys - Felix Jones will have a better day than Adrian Peterson - there I said it. I expect to see a lot of Felix, rushing and receiving, to slow down the pass rush and test the middle of the d-line and the depleted linebacking corp. Multiple tight end sets often, again to slow the pass rush and test linebackers as well as the strong safety questions for MIN, so Witten and Bennett and company will have a good showing. But when they do spread out the offense and force the Vikings into nickel defense, the Cowboys may test Chris Cook early and often. 

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