The next preseason game for the Cowboys has a lot of interesting facets. First of all, the third preseason game is often used as the "dress rehearsal" for the starters, so it is likely the best chance we have to find out what Dallas has in what I am now going to officially call the Season of Hope. At least until it isn't anymore. Also, this is the start of an ugly four-week stretch of road games where the Cowboys are going to log enough air miles to set off greenhouse gas alarms with the EPA. And in a couple of ways, the Cowboys will be looking at a team that has some very familiar issues.
The Minnesota Vikings have made a lot of changes. The most noticeable is the new youth movement, when they replaced the 83-year old Brett Favre with the lithe and coltish 34-year old Donovan McNabb, who we know so well from his time with the beloved Washington Redskins, the even more beloved Philadelphia Eagles, and of course his star turn as an Air Guitar Hero in 2009. OK, maybe I exaggerate and twist things a little. But we are going to see Donovan McNabb playing quarterback on Saturday night. It would be kinda odd to not see him at all this year.
More 'just the facts' reportage after the jump...
Donovan has some new toys to play with. First and foremost is the fantasy football wunderkind Adrian Peterson. (Note to all commenters: If you call him AP instead of AD, short for All Day, you will get a noogie.) Peterson is a beast of a running back, and he is backed up by Toby Gerhart, who seems to be quietly emerging as a pretty good ball carrier himself. If I were the Dallas defensive coaches, I would be doing some extra tackling drills this week. And Donoavn has some pretty good targets to throw to in WRs Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin, plus Michael Jenkins, who came over from the Falcons. Berrian is considered the one deep threat on the team, but Harvin is a very good possession/short receiver. We probably won't see TE Visanthe Shiancoe who is fighting a hamstring problem, but McNabb and his receivers will provide a decent test for the Dallas secondary, including Orlando Scandrick and his shiny new five year contract.
Also new is the head coach, Leslie Frazier. And the offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave. And a new offensive line coach, Jeff Davidson. And a new left tackle, Charlie Johnson. Meanwhile, the right guard, Anthony Herrera, is coming back (ahead of schedule) from an ACL injury that took him out last November. LG Steve Hutchinson is trying to rebound from an off year. Oh, and center John Sullivan is struggling with some injury issues and the recent death of his father. That is a lot of things to be dealing with.
It seems pretty obvious that the Vikings are most likely to be vulnerable on the offensive line.
McNabb's protection from the offensive line will be one of the most critical issues for the Vikings to solve this season. There are several positions in front of him in flux, and perhaps because of that the passing game has been measured and safe during team drills in practices as well as the first two exhibition games - a lot of check-downs and dump-offs.
In hopes of getting into offensive rhythm, and just because it is the third preseason game, the Minnesota coaches are putting in a game plan for the first time. Which would seem to mean that it is open season for Rob Ryan and his myriad of blitz schemes. Unless the somewhat ragged Vikings offensive line can get things in order in a hurry, it could get a little ugly. I hope. It is odd that even though the Cowboys are likely to be playing their rookies heavily as they have the first two preseason games, I feel like they are further along in solving their OL problems than the Vikings, although the truth will not be known until the game is played.
Defensively, the Vikings are all about the front four, with the now mulletless Jared Allen leading the way. Even with a bad year for the team in 2010, he still notched 11 sacks last year. He is joined by Brian Robison at the opposite end, with Remi Ayodele and Kevin Williams completing a defensive line that looks to reawaken memories of the Purple People Eaters, although Williams is expected to be out with plantar fasciitis, which I have no idea how to pronounce, much less explain. Still, even with him out, it looks to be an excellent (to put a positive light on things) test for Tyron Smith and the revamped Dallas O line.
The rest of the defense gets little mention in the press. I don't know if they are just overshadowed by what's happening on offense, or just kind of average. The starting linebackers are projected to be Chad Greenway and the Hendersons, E.J. and Erin (I will not make a joke about the girlie name). Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin are the corners and Tyrell Johnson and Husain Abdullah man the safety slot. Minnesota ranked 25th in total defense last year, 23rd in passing, and 24th in rushing. Looks like a unit that may be exploitable.
On special teams they have place kicker Ryan Longwell. We have a competition among, I think, seventeen place kickers. And I refuse to discuss that any more.
Although it is a little harder to analyze, the coaching matchup should be very interesting, with their new OC going up against Rob Ryan's defense, and Jason Garrett matching wits with Frazier. Both teams are looking to bounce back from 6-10 campaigns, so they are coming from very similar places. You might take a quick look at a 53 man projection posted on the Daily Norseman.
Looking at the game overall, I think Tony Romo can crank it up a little, providing the line keeps him on his feet against the Vikings pass rush. If the Cowboys use this as their dress rehearsal, we will have a better idea of how potent the offense really is. Defensively, this has to put a little bit of a smile on Ryan's face. With the patchwork nature of the Minnesota O line, this might be a chance to release the Kraken.
Hopefully, this will be a good showing by the Cowboys. And maybe Donovan will treat us to an air rendition of Stairway to Heaven.