The Cowboys and Vikings appear to be two evenly matched teams on paper heading into the game on Sunday. With that said, you would think that the game will be a tough battle that will be won in the fourth quarter. I'm not so sure that is how things are going to play out. Let me explain why. A closer look at the matchups appears to give the Cowboys advantages in most areas.
The Vikings have a tough run defense primarily because they have massive defensive linemen in the middle of the line. But the Cowboys have Felix Jones to counter that strength. He can run effectively in the middle of the field but his real strength is his speed. He can run outside as well as any back in the league. When he is on the field the Vikings will be forced to respect the outside run which will help open up the inside of the field as well. I don't think the Cowboys will have a consistent running attack but they will be able to break off a big play here and there against the Viking defense.
The pass defense for the Vikings is completely reliant on Jared Allen applying pressure to the quarterback. With the fans going crazy it is going to force the Cowboys into a silent snap count. That works to Allen's advantage because he will get a step on Flozell Adams at the snap. The Cowboys may have to give Flozell some help to keep Allen from having a big day. The good news for Dallas is that the secondary is below average. If the Cowboys can protect Tony Romo then he will have time to find open receivers. The Vikings run a cover 2 scheme which usually results in high catch games for Jason Witten. After a five or six throws underneath to Witten the safeties may get tempted to cheat up and that is when the big plays will come.
The strength of the Dallas defense matches up with the biggest weakness for the Vikings. The offensive tackles for the Vikings have trouble pass blocking so the Vikings will need to run to keep Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer honest. If the Cowboys can get a big lead to eliminate the running game of the Vikings then I believe the Cowboys will hit Favre repeatedly and possibly even knock him out of the game.
The Cowboys run defense has been one of the best in the league this year. But they haven't faced a running back as dynamic as Adrian Peterson. He can take any play the distance so the Cowboys will need to wrap up and gang tackle. But they can't over-commit to the run or Favre is going to kill them with play action passing. I believe the running of Adrian Peterson is the only chance the Vikings have to control the game and win. Limiting the carries Peterson gets is going to be vital to the success of the Dallas defense.
Another strength for the Vikings is the return game of Percy Harvin. Well, the Cowboys have the antidote for that too. David Beuhler has been forcing touchbacks all year long. And kicking in the climate controlled dome should work to his advantage. Harvin may get a returnable kick or two so the coverage teams will have to be on their toes, but Harvin's chances will be limited by deep kickoffs.
One advantage I can see for the Vikings is the playmaking ability of Brett Favre. If he gets hot he can be unstoppable. He has the ability to turn a broken play into a big gain. He gets rid of the ball just when you think he is going to be sacked. And he has some big targets to make plays when he throws up a jump ball. But sometimes he makes silly mistakes under pressure. The more times the Cowboys force him into his freelance mode the higher the probability that he will turn the ball over. The pass rush has to force Favre into mistakes.
Obviously Tony Romo will need to protect the ball. He has the same tendencies as Favre so the offensive line will need to give him time. The Cowboys need to control the clock with long drives. A fast start by the offense will force the Vikings into a pass mode and that will play into the strengths of the Dallas defense while also limiting the impact of Adrian Peterson.
I believe the Cowboys will get off to a fast start. A fast start will quiet the crowd, limit Adrian Peterson's touches, and allow the Dallas pass rushers to attack Favre. I keep envisioning the game ending in a big Dallas win with an injury to Favre ending his season. Maybe I've been "drinking the kool-aid" too much this week but I see the Cowboys winning big. It just seems like the Cowboys match up well with the Vikings. I predict a 33-17 win for Dallas.