'Boys - Vikings Preview & Prediction

The Cowboys' offense struggled with pass protection against Tennessee, but if QB Tony Romo is given time he should be effective against Minnesota's injury-depleted secondary.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 10/17/10
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver

KEYS TO THE GAME: Vikings QB Brett Favre has his downfield weapon in WR Randy Moss, which paid immediate dividends in also allowing Percy Harvin to roam free in the slot. But Favre also has tendinitis in his throwing elbow which is clearly affecting the zip and accuracy on his passes. Until Favre proves he can do damage downfield, look for the Vikings to focus on RB Adrian Peterson. The Cowboys' offense struggled with pass protection against Tennessee, but if QB Tony Romo is given time he should be effective against Minnesota's injury-depleted secondary.

FAST FACTS: Cowboys TE Jason Witten has had at least 10 catches for 85-plus yards in each of the past two meetings. ... Peterson needs 36 rushing yards to reach 5,000 in just his 51st career game.

INSIDE THE DALLAS CAMP: The Cowboys head into Sunday's game against the Vikings with serious questions about the offensive line.

Dallas gave up six sacks in a playoff loss to Minnesota and its vaunted defensive front last season.
v The Cowboys made improving the line a priority in the offseason. They got rid of left tackle Flozell Adams and replaced him with Doug Free. The rest of the line came back intact.

Despite the minimal turnover, owner Jerry Jones feels better about the line today than he did in January's playoff game.

He said tackle Marc Colombo, who was beaten for three sacks by Ray Edwards last year, is healthy again. Last year Colombo was starting for the second time after missing seven games with a broken leg and a sprained ankle. Adams was sidelined in the second half due to injury. "When I look at the second half in Minnesota compared to what we're taking to Minnesota right now, I like the comparison," Jones said. "We've got Colombo back with a lot more reps since his injury, and frankly, in a lot better shape.

"We're in better shape at left tackle as we go up to Minnesota. Plus we've got a learning curve we've got there, too. We saw that happen there at Minnesota. We've got some things we put in to mitigate in case we do get a jail break coming at us. So I like what we're doing on the offensive line as we go to Minnesota that we weren't doing last year."

Expect the Cowboys to have the running backs and tight end Jason Witten stay in to help slow the rush with max protection.

Questions remain about the personnel, especially considering the Cowboys' effort against the Titans last week. Quarterback Tony Romo was sacked six times.

Right guard Leonard Davis was benched in the second quarter for his poor play. The three-time Pro Bowler from Texas didn't sleep much Sunday night after what he called the worst game of his career.

Offensive line coach Hudson Houck said Davis played well when he returned to the game in the second half and believes he may be better because of the experience.

"We know what kind of guy he is, and when he came back in, he played very well, and he's very serious right now," Houck said. "I think every once in a while, maybe all of us need to be knocked down a little bit. Then all of a sudden, you get a little more focused."

Considering Davis' $49.6 million contract is the richest ever for a Cowboys offensive lineman, Jones was disappointed Sunday. But he's said he's seen too many good things from Davis not to believe he will be better.

"Realistically, you hate to see him have that struggle," Jones said. "He had a really tough assignment for him, a very quick, quick defensive lineman in front of him. He got frustrated. I'm going to give him a little love here, a little pat on the back for getting it together and coming back in the second half and playing pretty well. I think that's hard to do."

Colombo had his problems against the Titans, too. The Cowboys just didn't have anyone behind him they trusted enough to replace him, which is another indictment of their front-office decision-making in the offseason.

Alex Barron was supposed to compete with Free for the starting job and serve as the third tackle. He replaced an injured Colombo in the opener and committed three holding penalties, including one that wiped away the game-winning touchdown on the final play.

Barron has not played since.

So it goes without saying that Colombo will be challenged to handle Edwards again.

And this doesn't even consider Free going against Jared Allen, who is the Vikings' best pass rusher. While Free has played well -- so much so that he is already considered the team's best offensive lineman -- dealing with Allen will be his toughest assignment because of the crowd noise at the Metrodome. Of Allen's 14.5 sacks last year, he recorded 9.5 of them at home.

INSIDE THE MINNESOTA CAMP: Brett Favre said this week that he would be willing to end his consecutive games streak in order to rest his sore throwing elbow if that proves to be in the Vikings' best interest.

If only it were that simple.

Favre, who turned 41 on Sunday, has started an NFL-record 289 consecutive regular-season games during his 20-year career. Tendinitis in his elbow could threaten that streak, but no one knows if Favre will be able to actually follow through with not starting.

"I think any player would have to consider that," Favre said of sitting out. "Going through that type of situation where I can (play), but will rest help? Yeah, it will be a consideration I'll take. ... I need to work on the timing obviously, but to what extent?"

That is part of Favre's issue. He skipped training camp and is trying to get on the same page as many of his wide receivers. That includes Randy Moss, who was obtained last week from New England.

Favre did not practice Wednesday but did limited throwing Thursday and is on track to start Sunday against the Cowboys in a matchup of teams that are off to surprising 1-3 starts.

Favre said his biggest issue isn't the zip on the football but the accuracy, something that was obvious at times watching him in the Vikings' 29-20 loss to the Jets on Monday night.

"There were some throws that blindfolded I felt like I could have made," Favre said. "I made some good throws but missed on some that I don't miss on. That's what I don't want to happen. ... From that standpoint, I don't want to play just to play."

COWBOYS PERSONNEL NEWS: WR Dez Bryant could miss the Vikings game because of continued problems with a high ankle sprain he suffered in training camp. Bryant has played through the injury all season, but he re-tweaked it last week against the Titans. He has not practiced this week.

--C Andre Gurode underwent an MRI after experiencing discomfort in his right knee. Results weren't immediately known. If he can't go against the Vikings, OG Kyle Kosier would get the first start of his career at center.

--OT Marc Colombo was fined $5,000 by the NFL for a late hit in Sunday's game. He also received an excessive-celebration penalty for accidentally falling down in the end zone after a touchdown.

--RB Marion Barber will remain the starter despite the Cowboys' plans for a continued increased role for Felix Jones, who rushed for 109 yards last week against the Titans. Look for Barber to open the game as the starter but for Jones to come in quickly as the featured back. Barber will be the third-down back and the closer.

VIKINGS PERSONNEL NEWS: C John Sullivan returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis wearing a wrap on his injured left calf after sitting out Wednesday. Sullivan did not play in Monday night's game against the Jets.

--OL Chris DeGeare (ankle) did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.

--S Jamarca Sanford returned on a limited basis Thursday after sitting out Wednesday because of a back injury.

--CB Chris Cook (knee) was limited Wednesday and Thursday but is hoping to play Sunday against the Cowboys after missing Monday's game. It appears to be a long shot that Cook will be on the field.

--DE Brian Robison was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday because of an ankle injury.

--TE Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) was limited Wednesday and Thursday. He played Monday despite having suffered the injury Sept. 26 against the Lions.

--S Madieu Williams was limited because of a shoulder injury Wednesday and Thursday.

PREDICTION: Vikings 27-24


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