This Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys will host the Minnesota Vikings, renewing a long-standing NFC rivalry that gets everyone’s blood flowing. Dez Bryant has a chance to redeem himself after a late game “meltdown” that led to media assumptions of diva-esque behavior. Vikings’ Adrian Petersen may have the chance to improve his numbers and show the league why he was the leading rusher last year.
The ongoing quarterback quandary this week starts Christian Ponder again. Coach Leslie Frazier said the decision to go with Ponder is based on which of the three quarterbacks on the roster would give the Vikings the best chance of winning on Sunday. Newly signed and then concussed Josh Freeman is still under observation, and at the time of the press conference, Frazier had no solid plans on whether Matt Cassel or Freeman would be backing up Ponder.
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Adrian Petersen was held out of practice and Frazier clarified the decision to do so had nothing to do with Petersen’s physical condition. “We…just wanted him to rest a little bit… (We)want him raring to go on Sunday.”
Frazier admitted the secondary is “a little thinned out, in particular at safety,” which the Cowboys may be keen to take advantage of.
Dez Bryant spent the game last week against the Detroit Lions trying to keep pace with Calvin Johnson. Johnson’s 329 yards on 14 catches set the bar higher than Bryant could reach however, and he has spent the entire week living down his sideline passionate plea for action.
Bryant did not match Johnson but he did not slack off either. He caught three passes for 72 yards and scored two touchdowns. The Vikings defensive line just ain’t what it used to be but then, nor is the Cowboys. Both teams come to this meeting banged up and trying to move forward in a season where everything can turn on a dime at any moment. The Cowboys learned that lesson in spades when Detroit’s Matthew Stafford scored a last minute touchdown to beat them last Sunday 31-30.
The Vikings have given up 16 passing touchdowns this season, the most in the league after the Buffalo Bills. They are not balancing that out with take-aways either, with a -2 turnover ratio with just seven versus the Cowboys +9. Four of those came in that ill-fated game against the Lions.
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This season, Bryant has been instrumental in racking up points in the end zone with eight touchdowns. Six of Bryant’s touchdowns were red zone scores. Dallas has the third-best offense in the NFL when scoring red zone touchdowns, while the Vikings are at a less-sparkly 19th. The Cowboys outdo the Vikings in most areas, save for rushing yards. With Petersen healthy or not, Minnesota has a running game the Cowboys will have to be ready to repel if they want to go over .500 on Sunday.
The Cowboys are the fourth top-10 passing offense the Vikings will face this season, if considering passer rating. The other three –the Detroit Lions, the Carolina Panthers, and the Green Bay Packers– all took to the air with great success when the Vikings attempted to stand in their way. It is worth noting, however,that the Vikings were able to limit Johnson to just four catches for 37 yards during the Lions game. This may be due to the fact that the D-line was in far better shape than it will be on Sunday.
On injuries, the Cowboys will be missing Miles Austin and Morris Claiborne. Both have hamstring injuries and neither have practiced since Wednesday. Barry Church has light practice on his hammy and DeMarco Murray appears ready to return from his knee injury, participating in full practice all week. DeMarcus Ware, however, did not practice with his thigh injury.
For the Vikings, Frazier reports Petersen is ready to go, and Greg Jennings is probable with knee troubles. Chad Greenway had full practice this week and is also probable for Sunday.
With all the holes knocked in both teams, this is another up in the air matchup. The Vikings are running on desperation with a 1-6 record, but the Cowboys are struggling to not repeat their blasé, break-even performances from the last two years. A fire is burning under both teams and asbestos Nikes are not part of the uniform. The Cowboys have the slight advantage of home field, but are missing one of their premier defensive men. That slight edge may be enough however, for the Cowboys to carry the day, with Petersen under 100% and Ponder hanging on to his job by the strength of his week to week performance.
By Brandi Tasby