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Old 01-17-2010, 10:53 AM   #1
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Default PLAYOFF GDT - Cowboys @ Vikings!!! (Divisional Round)

Cowboys At Vikings
'Boys Must Brave Metrodome To Reach Next Level


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GAME SET
WHAT: Dallas Cowboys (12-5) at Minnesota Vikings (12-4)
WHEN: Saturday, Noon (CT)
WHERE: Mall of America Field, Minneapolis, Minnesota
TELEVISION: FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver)

BIG ISSUE: It's been a while since the Cowboys have been in this situation. If they beat the Vikings on the road this weekend, they'll secure their first trip to the NFC Championship Game since their Super Bowl-winning season of 1995. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has been hungry for that success for the past 15 years, and you can bet there will be a few FOX cameras fixed on his box at the Metrodome. One thing Jones will likely remember, though, is that the last time they faced Minnesota on the road in the playoffs - in 1999 - it was the Vikings who sent Dallas packing at the hands of a young Randy Moss. This Vikings team is arguably far more talented, so the Cowboys have a tall order ahead of them.

The Vikings find themselves in the same situation that the Cowboys did in 2007 - having secured a first-round bye but hoping to overcome a December swoon. The Vikings may be in a slightly better position than those Cowboys of two years ago, though, since Minnesota wrapped up this season with a 44-7 stomping of the New York Giants. But with a week off, has that burst of dominance worn off? The Vikings hope not, and they'll be playing with a chip on their shoulder since the trendy new pick to reach the Super Bowl, the Dallas Cowboys, are coming to town.

NUMBERS, PLEASE: The Cowboys have been stellar against the rush this season, ranking fourth in the NFL and allowing only 90.5 yards a game in the regular season. But Vikings running back Adrian Peterson can hurt even the most vaunted run defenses, so how will the Cowboys do against him? If the Vikings-Cowboys game from 2007 is any indication, Dallas will do fairly well. In that game at Texas Stadium, Peterson rushed for only 63 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries.

The Vikings led the league in sacks in the regular season with 48, but their sack production waned towards the end of the year. In the last five games of the season, Minnesota produced only eight sacks, an average of 1.6 per game. The Cowboys have been decent in protecting quarterback Tony Romo, allowing 34 sacks in the regular season, a little more than two-a-game.

ONE-ON-ONE: The Vikings may not have gotten to the quarterback as much toward the end of the season, but they still boast the NFL's leading sack artist: defensive end Jared Allen, who has torched teams for 14.5 sacks in 16 games. As usual, charged to stop the opposing team's best pass rusher will be Cowboys left tackle Flozell Adams. As much bad press as Adams has received because of various fines the NFL has levied against him, he has done a solid job of protecting Romo's blind side. In back-to-back weeks against the Eagles' Trent Cole, who recorded 12.5 sacks this season, Adams held the defensive end to zero sacks. Unlike Cole, Allen uses fewer fancy moves and relies on power and leverage to get to the quarterback.

Where the Cowboys have been vulnerable on defense lately is the middle of the field, surrendering 155 yards in two games to Eagles tight end Brent Celek. The Vikings have a dangerous tight end of their own in Vinsanthe Shiancoe, who finished the regular season with 556 yards and a whopping 11 touchdowns. Cowboys strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh and nickel linebacker Bobby Carpenter will be asked to stop him.

SUPPORTING ROLE: The Cowboys torched the Eagles for 198 yards rushing last week in the wild-card round, but only four of those yards were attributed to starting running back Marion Barber, who was held out for most of the game with a knee injury. Barber did not practice on Wednesday, and had limited participation Thursday, but practiced fully on Friday and is listed as probable. While many assume Barber is now the odd man out in the Cowboys running back rotation, Dallas values Barbers intensity and drive, so the Barbarian could get his fair share of carries depending on how his knee feels. Against a tough defense like Minnesota's, if Barber can rediscover his ability to punish defenders and power through tackles, it could be a big boost for the Cowboys' offense.

Vikings starting cornerback Antoine Winfield is still not 100 percent back from a foot injury that has limited his coverage abilities this season, and even though he's listed as probable after a full practice on Friday and should start, the Vikings will need big contributions from another cornerback to stop the Cowboys: sixth year corner Benny Sapp. Sapp has started seven games this season in relief of other injured corners, and finished the season with 40 tackles and six passes defensed. At 5-9, Sapp is on the smaller side, and if the Cowboys choose the right formations, they could possibly match up 6-3 receivers Roy Williams and Miles Austin against him.

HEADSET GAMES: For the past two weeks, the Cowboys knew the Eagles' plan: rely on the big play. What the Vikings plan to do, however, is by no means clear cut. Do they rely on Favre's arm and the passing game, or do they put the game on the broad shoulders of Peterson? Or will it be a combination of both? Like the Cowboys, the Vikings have racked up wins due to both phases of the offense, so what they do on Sunday is difficult to predict. The Cowboys might have to keep it simple at first and then make adjustments based on which direction the Vikings' offense goes.

The difference between the Vikings' run defense and their pass defense is stark - Minnesota was second in the league against the run during the regular season; against the pass, the Vikings were a whopping 19th, allowing 218 yards a game through the air. Therefore, it's no secret that the Cowboys will try to beat them with the pass (although it doesn't mean they'll abandon the run game). The Cowboys need to score quickly to beat the Vikings; that's been the secret to their success since beating New Orleans five weeks ago. Once the Vikings concentrate on defending the passing game, the Cowboys will be able to freeze them with a few draw plays here and there.


HEALTH WATCH:

Cowboys

Probable -- starting running back Marion Barber (knee), starting right tackle Marc Colombo (ankle), starting strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh (thumb), starting outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (wrist/back) and backup safety Pat Watkins (knee).

Vikings

Questionable -- backup defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy (thumb) and starting fullback Naufahu Tahi (back). Probable -- starting guard Steve Hutchison (shoulder), punter Chris Kluwe (back), tight end Vinsanthe Shiancoe (quadricep), starting defensive tackle Pat Williams (elbow) and starting corner Antoine Winfield (foot).
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