Vikings-Cowboys Preview & Prediction

The Vikings can keep this close because they have a potent running back tandem with Peterson and Chester Taylor, and because the Cowboys haven't scored a first-quarter touchdown all season.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET

GAMEDATE: 10/21/07

SURFACE: Sportfield Realgrass

TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver

SERIES: 26th meeting. Cowboys lead series, 13-12, but the Vikings have won the past five meetings. That includes an NFC wild-card victory in 1999 at the Metrodome.

PREDICTION: Cowboys 30-16

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Vikings can keep this close because they have a potent running back tandem with Peterson and Chester Taylor, and because the Cowboys haven't scored a first-quarter touchdown all season. But they're not going to really threaten elite teams until QB Tarvaris Jackson emerges as a legitimate threat to hurt defenses downfield. He has two touchdowns and five interceptions, and reading 3-4 schemes is difficult for any young passer. ... The Cowboys -- and more important, QB Tony Romo -- have to be prepared to not have the support of a strong running game. The Vikings allow just 66.2 yards per game on the ground, and the plan will be to stuff RBs Julius Jones and Marion Barber and then pressure Romo into turnovers. If Romo avoids big mistakes, the Vikings' secondary is vulnerable and the Cowboys should roll.

KEY INJURIES: Vikings: LB Vinny Ciurciu (ankle sprain) and FB Naufahu Tahi (knee sprain) are unlikely to play, depleting the special teams. Cowboys: CB Anthony Henry (ankle sprain) will be replaced by Jacques Reeves for a third straight game; FB Oliver Hoyte (pinched nerve, neck) could miss a fifth straight game; Romo (shoulder) said he has no lingering problems.

FAST FACTS: Vikings WR Sidney Rice leads NFC rookies with seven receptions on third downs. ... The Cowboys have been outscored 33-6 in the first quarter this season.

VIKINGS PERSONNEL NEWS: --FB Naufahu Tahi, a contributor on special teams, did not practice for a second consecutive day because of an MCL sprain and isn't expected to play Sunday.

--RB Mewelde Moore likely will be active for the first time since Week 3 and serve as the backup to Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson. Moore also will assume some of Naufahu Tahi's duties on special teams.

--LB Vinny Ciurciu did not practice for a second consecutive day because of a high-ankle sprain and almost certainly will miss Sunday's game. Ciurciu does not see time at linebacker but plays on all the special teams.

--DE Erasmus James was limited in practice for a second consecutive day because of a shoulder injury. It's unclear if that will affect James' status for Sunday's game.

--CB Antoine Winfield does not expect to be regularly matched up on Cowboys WR Terrell Owens on Sunday. Winfield spent most of the Vikings' loss to Green Bay in Week 4 covering Packers' No. 1 receiver Donald Driver. Winfield requested that assignment; he said he did not request Owens this time around. "Really, he's not their No. 1 receiver," Winfield said. "(Tight end) Jason Witten is. He has all the catches and most of the touchdowns." Witten leads the Cowboys with 32 receptions, which is five more than Owens. Witten and Owens both have four touchdown catches.

COWBOYS PERSONNEL NEWS: --LB Greg Ellis could return to the starting lineup for Sunday's game against the Vikings. The Cowboys had been bringing Ellis along slowly since returning to action three week ago against the Rams for the first time since suffering a torn left Achilles last November. Ellis has played primarily on passing downs with rookie top pick Anthony Spencer starting at outside linebacker. A final decision will be made later this week but coach Wade Phillips said Ellis is ready for more playing time. Ellis has 2.5 sacks in three games this season while Spencer has one sack in six games.

--WR Patrick Crayton drew national attention this week when he said the Patriots defense was not the real deal and he said he hoped to play the Patriots again in the Super Bowl ... if they got there. Crayton said he doesn't regret his remarks. He said he was angry after the Cowboys lost 48-27 to Patriots last Sunday. But he said he is also confident in his team.

--FB Oliver Hoyte practiced for two days without incident. He missed the previous four games with a neck strain. The Cowboys have not decided if he will start against the Vikings. Deon Anderson has played well in his stead the past couple of weeks.

--DE Jason Hatcher is starting to catch the Cowboys' attention and is pushing Marcus Spears for playing time at right end. The two are currently in a rotation. But Hatcher has made more plays. He has a sack and a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown.

INSIDE THE VIKINGS CAMP: The Vikings could be without free safety Dwight Smith for Sunday's game in Dallas.

Smith has played the past three games on a sore hamstring that he injured in Week 2 at Detroit. It was believed the Vikings' off week would help Smith but he continued to be limited in practice after the team returned from its bye on Oct. 7.

He finally was held out of practice Thursday and coach Brad Childress made no promises that Smith would be on the field Friday.

Childress said that during Thursday's practice the Vikings rotated veteran safeties Mike Doss and Tank Williams. Williams was the primary replacement on Sept. 16 when Smith had to leave the game against the Lions.

The Vikings might have become convinced that resting Smith was the best move after he appeared to be slowed on two late touchdowns last Sunday at Chicago. The touchdowns enabled the Bears to tie the score at 31. A last-second field goal by Ryan Longwell gave the Vikings the victory.

On the first Bears score, receiver Muhsin Muhammad caught a pass over the middle and then turned upfield as Smith failed to make a tackle. Shortly thereafter, speedy receiver Devin Hester got past Smith on an 81-yard touchdown catch from Brian Griese.

Smith said the hamstring did not play a role in him getting beat but he clearly was not able to go at full speed on either play.

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