Cosell breaks down the matchups

Greg Cosell, the senior producer for NFL Films, watches as much film as anyone in the media and took time to break down the key matchups in the Vikings-Cowboys game. Who is the better team? Where do the matchups favor the Vikings and which ones favor Dallas?

Countless experts will offer their take on the Vikings-Cowboys clash this Sunday. Greg Cosell is one analyst who offers a unique perspective. Unlike many of the talking heads who dominate the airwaves, Cosell studies copious amounts of coaches tape in his role as senior producer at NFL Films. Below are his thoughts of the highly anticipated matchup.

Tom Speicher: During the past month, much has been made regarding the Cowboys' outstanding execution and the Vikings' struggles. How much do you believe recent performance will influence play on Sunday?

Greg Cosell: I know that people, including coaches and players, believe in momentum, but I tend to believe that momentum becomes a function of strengths and weaknesses. I think right now that the Vikings have shown some weaknesses and the Cowboys have taken some strengths and really enhanced them.

TS: Which weakness should be the primary concern for the Vikings?

GC: Foremost, I think the Vikings offensive line is an average group. In this game, they have to figure out a way to compensate for that and camouflage an average group. Their two tackles (Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt) are probably average to below-average pass blockers. The Vikings cannot just line up consistently and drop back five and seven steps and expect Loadholt and McKinnie to block (DeMarcus) Ware and (Anthony) Spencer.

What the Cowboys usually do is align Ware on the open side of the formation away from the tight end. So now the Vikings have to figure out how to handle that. They can handle that in a variety of ways. They can line up with two tight ends. They can chip with a back. They can certainly go with a quick passing game where the ball gets out before Ware and Spencer have the chance to do damage. There are many different ways they can approach a pass rush that will likely overmatch their individual players. But if they need to allocate bodies and resources to deal with Ware and Spencer, they're taking away from other areas. For instance, if they feel the need to play two tight ends does that mean Percy Harvin plays fewer snaps?

TS: To slow down the pass rush, the Vikings should commit to the run?

GC: It's important that they run the ball effectively. There's a difference between running it often and running it effectively. They don't need to give the ball to (Adrian) Peterson 30 times. The problem they've had is that their O-line has not run blocked very well and Peterson has had very little space. Clearly they have morphed over the course of the season into a passing team because they've generated no consistency with the run game whatsoever. They need to be able to run the ball to the point where they can be in normal down and distance situations as opposed to long-yardage situations. The one thing that has shown up when you watch the Cowboys defense over the past six weeks is that they are fast and the Vikings offensive line is not fast. That's potentially a significant mismatch in this game.

TS: Overall, the Dallas defense clearly has an advantage over the Vikings offensive unit?

GC: The matchups do favor Dallas with the way their defense has been playing. On the other hand, you have individual players on the Vikings who can make plays like Visanthe Shiancoe, Sidney Rice, and certainly a Percy Harvin, who I think is a far better player than Orlando Scandrick, the nickel corner for the Cowboys. I think if the Vikings can protect the quarterback, they can make plays in the middle of the field and on the perimeter. Protection becomes the critical element in this game for Minnesota.

TS: Offensively for the Cowboys, do you expect their quality tight ends to give the Vikings fits, especially rookie middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley?

GC: Dallas has morphed into a multiple tight end offense in normal down and distance situations. If they play with multiple tight ends, then Brinkley will stay in the game because the Vikings will stay with their base defense. That's a potential problem because Brinkley struggles in pass coverage. That's what everybody expects. He's a rookie. He clearly struggles with play recognition and with speed of reaction. I think against two tight ends when he has to play against the pass, Brinkley is going to struggle and I think Dallas will target him.

TS: How will multiple tight end sets from Dallas impact the Minnesota secondary?

GC: If the Cowboys go with one back, two tight ends and two wide receivers, more than likely that will dictate a safety in the box for the Vikings and that means that (Cedric) Griffin and (Antoine) Winfield will be on the outside, essentially playing man to man. I think most teams feel pretty confident that they can attack those two corners in man-to-man situations. Griffin and Winfield are better Cover-2 zone corners.

TS: It's vital for the Vikings defense to be able to get off the field?

GC: The problem that the Eagles had the past two weeks against Dallas is that their defense couldn't get the Cowboys offense off the field. When that happens, particularly with a quarterback like (Brett) Favre, you get impatient because you feel like the number of plays you're going to run is getting away from you. All of a sudden you're in the second quarter and you've only run eight plays and the West Coast Offense is a volume offense. They want to run a lot of plays. The Vikings defense has to hold up early in the game so that it's not in the middle of the second quarter and the offense hasn't had enough plays. Because then I think a guy like Favre starts to get impatient.

TS: Based on what you've seen, you expect Dallas to win handily?

GC: Clearly the matchups favor the Cowboys, but I don't think the game can be simply wrapped in a nice little bow. I don't think games normally play out like that. The Vikings are a talented team on offense. They have a lot of really good offensive players. Great individual plays can happen. I love Percy Harvin. Sidney Rice has proven to be a dynamic wide receiver with great hands. We all know the kind of throws Favre is willing to make and can make. It's not like they are playing with bad players on offense. Their problems stem from the below-average play of their offensive line coupled with the fact they are playing a very fast, multiple and versatile defense.

For the Vikings defense, Jared Allen certainly in any given game can be a dominant pass rusher. Flozell Adams has had problems at times. Jared Allen could beat him three times. I don't think Kevin Williams has had a great year for Minnesota, certainly not one of his best. But he's certainly capable. The interior of that Dallas offensive line is big and they are maulers, but they are not quick. Kevin Williams at his best has great quickness off the ball.

The Vikings have a lot of good players. If they can dictate some individual matchups, they certainly have a chance. I think the Cowboys are probably better than the Vikings right now, but I wouldn't say they are significantly better. This is not a total mismatch to me by any stretch of the imagination.


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.

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