Vikings-Cowboys Game Plan

Despite the Dallas Cowboys' defensive strength, the Vikings might want to stick with what got them their win in Chicago, a strong dose of the running game. Plus, get several key matchups to watch as Minnesota faces what is considered the best team in the NFC.

Dallas' defense might be better against the run (No. 7) than it is the pass (No. 24), but don't expect the Vikings to go away from their ground game. Running back Adrian Peterson's monster performance last Sunday against the Chicago Bears has given Minnesota the NFL's top rushing attack and if Brad Childress' team has any chance of getting to .500, it will be necessary to keep the ball on the ground.

Veteran running back Chester Taylor also will get his fair share of carries as the Vikings attempt to eat the clock and retain possession.

Tarvaris Jackson did an adequate job against the Bears after missing two games because of a strained groin — a 60-yard touchdown pass to Troy Williamson was the highlight — but the second-year quarterback is simply being counted on not to make too many mistakes.

What could make things difficult on Jackson is he will see a 3-4 defensive scheme that the Vikings don't encounter all that often. This is sure to present some challenges.

This game also will be tough for a Vikings defense that is No. 2 against the run but last versus the pass. If this sounds familiar, there is good reason. Last season, Minnesota was first against the run but tied for last versus the pass.

Unfortunately for the Vikings, quarterback Tony Romo and the Cowboys are ranked third in the league (274.7 yards per game) in passing offense. Overall, Dallas is second in the NFL in total offense per game with an average of 405.2 yards.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Vikings CB Antoine Winfield vs. Cowboys WR Terrell Owens. Winfield likely won't be covering Owens exclusively Sunday but he still will be matched up against the Cowboys receiver on several occasions. Winfield spent most of his team's Sept. 30 loss going against Green Bay's top receiver, Donald Driver, after asking for the assignment. Winfield said he has made no such request this time. The downside to the Winfield-Owens matchup, at least from the Vikings standpoint, is that Owens is 6-3 and Winfield is only 5-9. The problem with not having Winfield on Owens (27 catches, 453 yards, four TDs) is that the veteran receiver could present big-time trouble if he gets matched up on Cedric Griffin or rookie Marcus McCauley, who plays left corner in the nickel.

Vikings MLB E.J. Henderson vs. Cowboys TE Jason Witten. Henderson will be among those responsible for covering Witten (32 catches, 454 yards, four TDs). The Vikings had some problems with Bears tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen in the last game — the two combined for eight receptions for 111 yards — and the assignment won't get any easier this time around. Chad Greenway and Ben Leber also will be responsible for Witten.

Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie vs. Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware. McKinnie has had an up-and-down season but he's on an upswing after a solid performance against the Bears. We'll see if that continues as McKinnie attempts to help slow Ware, who has 5.5 sacks this season after recording 11.5 a year ago. Ware promises to provide pressure from the right side, meaning that Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson also will provide assistance in blocking. That should be good news for the Vikings.

Vikings RB Adrian Peterson vs. Cowboys run defense. The Cowboys don't give up much on the ground but they will be severely tested against the Vikings and Peterson. The Vikings have the league's best rush offense. They have a good tandem with Peterson and veteran Chester Taylor, but there is no question Peterson is the game-breaker — just ask the Bears, a defense that is normally strong against the run but was repeatedly gashed by the rookie for long gains. The Cowboys go into every game with the goal of stopping the run first and force the opponent into a passing mode.


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