Game Snapshot: Cowboys at Vikings

<B>GAME SNAPSHOT<BR> <B>KICKOFF:</B> Sunday, 4:15 ET<BR> <B>GAMEDATE:</B> 9/12/04<BR> <B>SURFACE:</B> FieldTurf<BR> <B>TV:</B> FOX, Sam Rosen, Bill Maas<BR> <B>SERIES:</B> 25th meeting. Cowboys lead series 13-11. The Vikings have won the last four meetings, including 27-15 in Dallas on Nov. 23, 2000 and 27-10 in Minnesota on Jan. 9, 2000. The last Cowboys win came Dec. 28, 1996 by a score of 40-15.

Dallas Cowboys (0-0) at Minnesota Vikings (0-0)


*2003 RANKINGS: Cowboys: offense 15th (12th rush, 17th pass); defense 1st (3rd rush, 1st pass). Vikings: offense 1st (4th rush, 4th pass); defense 23rd (17th rush, 26th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME:
The Cowboys want to test the Vikings' secondary, which received an upgrade with the signing of CB Antoine Winfield. But first Dallas must establish the run and hope RB Eddie George can provide consistent yards. If not, the Vikings figure to have a strong pass rush with DT Kevin Williams and rookie DE Kenechi Udezi, who will come after immobile 40-year old QB Vinny Testaverde whenever possible. The matchup of the game will be between Vikings WR Randy Moss and Cowboys CB Terrence Newman, but Pete Hunter is a liability at the other corner and must tackle well. RB Moe Williams starts for the Vikings with Michael Bennett out, and Onterrio Smith will get plenty of work as well. Minnesota likes to establish the run early to set up deep shots downfield by QB Daunte Culpepper.


FAST FACTS:
Cowboys: George will start his 128th consecutive game. ... Lead the series 13-11. ... Are 30-13-1 in season openers but have lost their past four.
Vikings: WR Randy Moss has eight touchdown receptions in four career games against the Cowboys that averaged 39 yards. ... QB Daunte Culpepper had a 134.5 passer rating in the preseason


PREDICTED SCORE: Vikings 27, Cowboys 20

PERSONNEL NEWS
Cowboys:
  • LB Dexter Coakley will start at weak-side linebacker although Bradie James will share time at the position.
  • LB Kalen Thornton will be one seven linebackers to see time in the game. Of course starters, Dexter Coakley, Dat Nguyen and Al Singleton are going to play, as will Bradie James who is expected to split time with Coakley at weak-side linebacker.
    The other three -- Thornton, Keith O'Neil and Scott Shanle -- are necessary for special teams purposes.
    Thornton, a rookie from Texas, will play on three special teams units as well as serve as a nickel pass rusher.
  • DT Leo Carson, who has been suspended by the league for the opener, will return to the active roster on Monday, forcing the Cowboys to cut at least one player to get down to the mandatory limit of 53.
  • RB ReShard Lee will be one of two kickoff returners on Sunday. Parcells' decision on the other deep back will likely depend on who he makes active for the game between cornerbacks Nate Jones and Jacques Reeves and receiver Patrick Crayton. The decision will be the same on his punt returner between Crayton and Dedrick Ward.
  • RT Kurt Vollers and guard/center Tyson Walter have been assured offensive line backup spots for Sunday's game. The decision the Cowboys need to make is whether they will take seven or eight offensive linemen. If they take eight, the third reserve will be guard/center Matt Lehr. The only reason Parcells is considering taking just seven is the versatility of Vollers and Walter - who can each play three positions. Vollers can backup at both tackle spots and guard. Walter can play guard, center and tackle if need be.


    Vikings:
  • K Morten Andersen appears set for the start of his 23rd season. His career .789 accuracy mark on field goals speaks for itself, but the Vikings might be pushing their luck by having the oldest player in the league (44) kick off
  • LS Cullen Loeffler has an exceptionally fast punt snap. The average time takes about .8 seconds. Loeffler has been timed in the high 6s to low .7s.
  • DT Kevin Williams is quiet off the field, but a wrecking ball on it. Last year's team leader in sacks (10.5) was the first person Cowboys coach Bill Parcells mentioned when asked about the Vikings' defense.
  • P Darren Bennett quietly had a poor preseason, ranking 21st in the NFC in average (36.7). The Vikings aren't worried. Of course, they've had bigger problems trying to find a kicker.
  • C Matt Birk's return from hernia surgery is a boost to the offense, especially the running game. While the Vikings are glad he's back, they're also comfortable knowing the line didn't give up a sack during the preseason. Backup Cory Withrow started the first three preseason games.


    INSIDE THE CAMPS
    Cowboys:
    For much of the week, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said rookie running back Julius Jones wasn't hurt but just sore.
    Jones has practiced all week but Parcells hasn't yet to decide if he's healthy enough to play.
    On Thursday, Jones said he wanted to play and wouldn't miss the season opener for anything in the world.
    That same day, Parcells officially placed Jones on the Cowboys injury report as probable for the game with sore ribs.
    "I would like to see him play, if he can," coach Bill Parcells said. "I'm not sure if he will or not." Jones has bruised ribs with some torn cartilage dating back to the third preseason game against the Titans. He missed the final preseason game against Chiefs. And remains iffy for Sunday's opener. If he does play, it will be with a protective flak jacket type of device. Parcells says it will be a game time decision.
    "I don't pressure anybody to do anything," Parcells said. "I have to get my team ready, and play the players that I think this Sunday give us the best chance. If he is not one of them, he won't play. It's not his fault." If Jones is not able to play, it will likely mean more time for ReShard Lee, rather than more carries for Eddie George and Richie Anderson.


    Vikings:
    Except for running back Michael Bennett, the Vikings appear to be in good health heading into Sunday's season opener against Dallas.
    Cornerback Brian Williams (knee), left tackle Bryant McKinnie (knee) and receiver Marcus Robinson (hamstring) looked good in practice Thursday and are expected to contribute against the Cowboys.
    Williams isn't ready to reclaim his starting right cornerback position, but he will be available to play in the nickel this week. Without him in that role, the Vikings would have to rely on serviceable second-year pro Rushen Jones as the fifth defensive back and a cast of nobodies beyond that
    "Brian looked better (Thursday) than he did (Wednesday)," Tice said. "He was able to go the entire practice today at nickel. It's much more pleasing to me that we are able to rely on him now, it looks like." McKinnie sat out the preseason finale because of a sprained right knee. There was a significant dropoff as Adam Haayer and rookie Nat Dorsey tried to fill in.
    "I'm fine," McKinnie said. "I could have played the last game if it was during the regular season." Robinson hasn't played since the preseason opener. The team's prized offensive free-agent signing lost his No. 2 receiver job to Nate Burleson, but appears eager to reclaim it. He will be given plenty of opportunities because the Vikings use a lot of three-receiver formations.
    As for Bennett, he might return next week against Philadelphia. But the Vikings are in good shape at running back because the NFL hasn't ruled on Onterrio Smith's appeal of a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
    Moe Williams will start at running back, but look for Smith to carry the bulk of the load.





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