The Vikings returned from a five-day break on Sunday to begin preparations for their NFC divisional playoff game. Players got the time off as a reward for earning the second seed in the conference and getting a first-round bye.
Despite having the higher seed and some additional rest, the Vikings figure to be in for an extremely difficult test when they play host to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
The Cowboys have won four in a row, including a 34-14 rout of the Philadelphia Eagles last Saturday in their first-round playoff game, and their confidence appears to be extremely high.
"It's a very confident football team right now on both sides of the football and on special teams," Vikings coach Brad Childress said of the Cowboys. "Typically, right now you're not playing if you're not a confident football team with a little bit of rhythm, a little bit of zip – you have to be able to accentuate that and build on that in the next week."
While the players got some time off last week, the coaching staff was working on game plans for possible opponents. The majority of their time was spent focused on the Cowboys because the Vikings did not face Dallas during the regular season.
Many Vikings players tuned in to watch the Cowboys' playoff game and came away impressed by what they saw. Dallas' Tony Romo is the type of quarterback who could give Minnesota trouble because of his ability to hit receivers on three-step drops, and the Cowboys' physical front lines on both sides of the ball promise to be a handful.
"They are playing well," Vikings Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "They're running the ball and Tony's doing some great things with the football, getting it out on time, and those guys are just clicking on all cylinders. Their defense, they are stopping them. There's not much more you can do better as a team than what they've been doing the last few weeks."
Added linebacker Ben Leber: "(The Cowboys) played well and they obviously pose some problems. They are a good run offense, we're a good run defense. So it's going to be a great matchup there. They throw a lot of quick stuff. It might be kind of challenging for us to get pressure on them but we'll do the best we can."
Among the challenges for Leber and the linebackers will be stopping or at least slowing Cowboys tight end Jason Witten. The Vikings have struggled against good pass-catching tight ends and it seems likely Romo will be looking to Witten quite a bit on Sunday.
"I've played against him several times and he's a guy that you have to concentrate on and be aware of," Leber said. "He can stretch you vertically, take the short passes and turn them into long gains. He's a great all-around tight end."
LINEUP WATCH: Tyrell Johnson is expected to start at strong safety against the Cowboys, but it's not out of the question that rookie Jamarca Sanford will share time at the position. The hard-hitting Sanford was used on certain series in the Vikings' regular-season finale against the New York Giants and could be in line to continue doing so in the playoffs.
TRENDING: The Vikings have only won twice in six playoff games against the Cowboys. They are 0-2 in divisional round playoff games versus Dallas, with both losses coming at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.
Vikes impressed with Dallas win
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