There are times, for better or worse, that timing can mean everything. If a Pro Bowl quarterback gets injured the week before he plays your team, that can become a huge tactical advantage when facing the backup. However, when it comes to what the Dallas Cowboys are facing coming into Sunday's game with the Vikings, just the opposite is true, making the battle between wide receiver Dez Bryant and the Vikings cornerbacks this week's key matchup.
Bryant has already established himself as one of the elite wide receivers in the league. He's near the top in all major statistical categories with 45 receptions for 641 yards and eight touchdowns, has compiled three games of 110 yards or more and has two touchdowns in three games. Where the problem comes in from the Vikings' perspective is what happened last week.
The Cowboys traveled to Detroit, where one of the primary storylines was the battle between Calvin Johnson and Bryant. Johnson is universally viewed as the top wide receiver in the NFL, but Bryant is in the discussion as to who is the No. 2 receiver in the league. He had a chance to make a statement last week and he did, but it wasn't what was hoped. Bryant scored a pair of touchdowns that showed off his athleticism – one a one-armed over-the-shoulder touchdown catch and the other being a short pass in which he pushed a defender away and raced 50 yards for a score. But he caught just three passes for 72 yards, while Johnson caught 14 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown, including a pair of long receptions in the final minute that helped Detroit win the game.
What followed was a sideline display that, at first blush, looked as if Bryant was chewing out his quarterback and his coaches. Subsequent audio of one of the outbursts showed he wasn't being selfish, he was just frustrated with his lack of production, being targeted just six times – tying his season low.
After the game, Tony Romo said the Cowboys need to get Bryant the ball more. That could be very, very bad news for the Vikings as they are the next opponent on the schedule for an angry, talented receiver ready to make a statement.
The Vikings will be without three of their starters in the secondary – Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford and Chris Cook – which will put the onus on unproven players like Xavier Rhodes, Josh Robinson, A.J. Jefferson, Mistral Raymond and Andrew Sendejo. The problem with that formula is that allowing big plays in the passing game has been a season-long problem for the Vikings.
In Week 1, the Vikings did a solid job of limiting Megatron – he caught just four passes for 37 yards – but Reggie Bush caught four passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. In Week 2, Brandon Marshall caught seven passes for 113 yards and a score. In Week 3, Josh Gordon was targeted 19 times, catching 10 of them for 146 yards and a touchdown. In Week 4, Antonio Brown caught 12 passes for 88 yards and Jerricho Cotchery caught five passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. In their next game, Carolina's Brandon LaFell, who has averaged less than 30 yards a game in his other seven games this season, caught four passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. Last week against Green Bay, Jordy Nelson caught seven passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns and Jarrett Boykin caught five passes for 89 yards.
The Vikings secondary, even when at full strength, has been giving up far too many catches, yards and touchdowns to big-play receivers. How will they fare when they have three of their Opening Day starters sidelined with injuries?
Timing in the NFL is everything and the timing of the Vikings meeting the Cowboys couldn't come at a worse time for Minnesota's defense. Bryant was humiliated in the comparison matchup with Megatron last week, Romo has promised to get him the ball more, and the Vikings appear ill-equipped to stop him with their backup secondary players pushed into the starting lineup. If there is any barometer needed to determine where the Vikings will finish Sunday, it will be the numbers that Bryant produces, which many believe could be eye-popping.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Key matchup: Angry Bryant vs. beat-up D-backs
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