One of the most common theories of defensive strategy is that a team must make the opposing offense one-dimensional.
The theory, of course, is that if the defense can take away either the run or the pass from the opposing offense and force it to rely exclusively on the other, it becomes much easier to defend.
At first glance, the theory is sound, especially against offenses that rely primarily on the run.
But the theory help the Dallas defense this weekend against the Minnesota Vikings?
But when a team has an offense with lethal weapons in the rushing game and when taking to the air, how does a defense know where to start? According to linebacker Bobby Carpenter, the plan still revolves around the Cowboys' ability to stop the run.
Two problems with that approach: (1) The Vikings have arguably the best running back in the NFL in Adrian Peterson, so stopping the Minnesota ground game won't be easy. (2) There's some old graybeard playing quarterback in the Land of 10,000 Lakes these days — goes by the name of Brett Favre, and is merely pausing in Minnesota on his express ride to the Hall of Fame.
"You always want to stop the run first — if you can't stop the run, you're going to be in some trouble," Carpenter said Monday at Valley Ranch. "That's easier said than done with Adrian Peterson, and obviously with Brett Favre throwing to some very talented players. So we're going to be challenged on all fronts this week.
"You've got a guy who is maybe the best quarterback ever, by some accounts, and then you have a running back who, when all is said and done, could be in the same breath (for his position). We're getting those two guys at the opposite end of the (age) spectrum, so it's going to be interesting to see whose team it is."
In Peterson, the Cowboys are facing a back with as complete a blend of sprinter's speed and freight-train power as there is in the league. Carpenter echoes the sentiments of some NFL defenders who think it's foolish to try to stop Peterson, and insist instead that the key is to merely keeping him from having one of his signature huge games.
"You have to make sure you're sure on your tackles," Carpenter said when asked how to keep Peterson from going off in one of his The big problem with him is that you can have people in position, and he can outrun them, run them over or juke them — he's just a tremendous athlete. You have to try to contain him, and limit his rushes to two, three yards, because if you don't, it's the ones that are 25, 30 and 60 yards that are going to kill you.
"It's a little bit different. When you're playing a team that can run, like the Vikings ... obviously their style is pretty different. We've played guys who are fast backs, home run backs, but obviously, they're not Adrian Peterson. He's a tremendous player. We have to try to find a way to stop him — that's what we're going to do this week."
But this isn't a team that needs its star runner to make up for an impotent passing attack. The addition of Favre to the Minnesota offense has helped Peterson more than double last year's receptions total (jumping from 21 to 43), helped wideout Percy Harvin win the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year award and sent fellow receiver Sidney Rice to the Pro Bowl.
Favre's detractors point to his age, and the grey on his chin, and suggest here's merely hanging around for the chance to win another Super Bowl and pad his already-gaudy individual statistics, that he isn't the player he was in his younger years. Carpenter said the reports of Favre's decline are grossly premature.
"Age, at this point in the year — I don't think matters a whole lot," Carpenter said. "He has had two weeks off. He's a Hall of Fame quarterback. That's all that needs to be said."
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