Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt vs. DeMarcus Ware
In every game, there are intriguing matchups that stand out and few games will have more of these positional battles than the Vikings and the Cowboys. There's the battle of QBs between Brett Favre and Tony Romo. There are the undersized Vikings corners vs. the tall receivers of the Cowboys. There is the Dallas defense trying to stop Adrian Peterson. The list goes on and on.
But when it comes to which battle will likely have the most to do with winning or losing, the battle between Vikings offensive tackles Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt trying to contain Dallas pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware is this week's key matchup.
Ware is an anomaly at his position – he is technically a linebacker, but in the aggressive Cowboys 3-4 defense, he is rushing the passer more than he is staying back in coverage or taking backs and tight ends out of the backfield. Unlike a pass-rushing defensive end like Jared Allen, who teams can use tight ends and running backs to serve as chippers as a means of slowing him down, there is no such luxury when it comes to Ware.
Because of his skill set, head coach Wade Phillips, who also serves as defensive coordinator for the Cowboys, gives Ware an incredible amount of autonomy on the field. He isn't beholden to staying in his spot. If he sees a weakness on one side of the formation, he can call a switch and move to that side. In many ways, he is like a wide receiver – you don't know what side he will line up on until he breaks the defensive huddle.
Ware is most likely to spend most of his time lined up opposite Loadholt. The second-year Viking plays right tackle because he has questionable foot quickness to serve as a blindside protector. That could be a weakness the Cowboys try to exploit. For Favre to launch bombs to Moss, he is going to need time in the pocket to load up and fire. If Ware can beat Loadholt to the edge, he will either get his hands on Favre or force him to abandon the deep game.
If Loadholt can hold his ground, where he is likely to get tight end blocking help, Ware will bounce over to face Bryant McKinnie – most likely one on one. Ware has proved his dominance when lined up one on one with a left tackle. Of the nine sacks the Cowboys have through four games, six of them have come from Ware. McKinnie faces tough pass rushers all the time, but few can bring the combination of strength, speed and technique that Ware does. If he finds a weakness, he could exploit the left side of the Vikings offense more than the right.
Ware's mere presence is likely going to force the Vikings, at least early in the game, to employ a max-protect system that will limit deep shots downfield. That alone could be enough to make Ware's role as invaluable to the Cowboys defense as Moss will be to the Vikings offense. Both will command attention for the opposing coordinator and schemes have been devised expressly to limit his ability to make plays.
Given the relative health of Brett Favre, the last thing the Vikings need is for Ware to get a couple of clean shots on Favre. There are few defenders that deliver the big hit on a quarterback like Ware does. He not only hits a quarterback on contact, he delivers a tomahawk chop to knock the ball loose. In his old age, Favre is susceptible to fumbling when hit. An injured Favre is even more likely. While help will be provided by guys like Jim Kleinsasser and Visanthe Shiancoe, it will be the job of Loadholt and McKinnie to stop Ware from getting his hands on Favre. The extent to which they can neutralize Ware will go a long way to the Vikings scoring the points needed to win.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Key matchup: Tackles v. Ware
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