Must win? Desperation game? Panic Bowl? Probably.
For once, the mainstream media hyperbole would appear to be accurate.
While it wouldn’t be absolutely impossible to make a playoff run after a 1-4 start in the weak NFC, it sure as hell would be improbable.
That will likely make this game a very good one, setting aside loyalties and considering just the quality of football: Two talented but under-performing teams will give it their all this afternoon.
WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING
Turnovers. The vikings are tied for 30th in the league with a minus-6 turnover margin. In the wake of the loss to the Jets, I questioned why the formidable Vikings defense wasn’t creating more turnovers. They’re going to have to start today because that statistic will likely be the single most important factor in whether or not the Vikings win today.
Bananas. Randy Moss‘ returns for his first home game with his team backed up against the wall and facing his personal bête noire, the Dallas Cowboys. I think Randy will have a highlight-reel game because he always does against the Cowboys: He’s got 35 receptions for 734 yards and 11 touchdowns for his career against Dallas.
Dallas’ starting cornerbacks are Mike Jenkins (5’10”, 200 lbs.) and Terrance Newman (5’10”, 193 lbs). At 6’4″, 200 lbs, Moss has half a foot on these guys. Couple that height advantage with Randy’s leaping ability and his long arms and it equals a long day for the Dallas secondary.
Brett Favre’s Elbow. How often and how well Randy Moss gets the ball may well depend upon the severity of the tendinitis in Brett Favre’s throwing elbow. My instinct is to say that the number of throws won’t matter because Favre will gut it out to do what it takes to win the game. If that means 50 passes, he’ll throw 50 passes. The real question is how accurate the tendinitis will allow Favre to be with his throws.
Grind It Out. The degree to which the Vikings try and shove Adrian Peterson down the Cowboys’ throat may give you an idea of the degree to which Favre‘s elbow is affecting his game. Establishing a successful ground game wouldn’t be a bad approach regardless, though, because it would help to limit the time the Cowboys 3rd-ranked passing offense has on the field.
If that’s the plan, then it will be vital that Favre is accurate so he can take advantage when the Cowboys focus on stopping AP.
The Cowboys defense is last in the NFL in both tackles and passes defensed.
The Slot. You saw against the Jets how the mere presence of Randy Moss on the field opened things up for Percy Harvin. I want to see if that continues with more looks for Harvin and Visanth(e) Shiancoe up the middle.
The Beast. That would be linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who already has six sacks this year.
Up The Middle. In addition to Ware, the Vikings need to account for nose tackle Jay Ratliff is not just a clog-the-middle kinda guy but can bring pressure and collapse the pocket. In pass protection, then, the fullback position may loom large for the Vikings, given Jon Cooper will get his first start at center.
Special Teams. The Vikings have a slight edge in special teams play. While Dallas’ rookie safety Akwasi Owusu-Ansah handles kick return duties and has comparable stats to Percy Harvin, Harvin demonstrated last year he can take it to the house and was one man away from doing so last week.
In the punt return game, Dallas would seem to have the edge with rookie receiver Dez Bryant having taken a punt 62 yards for a touchdown already this year. Bryant is averaging 11.3 yards per return. Greg Camarillo, on the other hand, is averaging 8.1 yards per return but has shown some spark with a long return of 22 yards.
The Cowboys are second-to-last in the league in kick return coverage, giving up an average of 30.2 yards per kick; the Vikings are averaging 27.4 yards per kick but the Vikings are tied for fourth in the league in forced fair catches with 7. Dallas has forced on fair catch.
Boo on that! Let’s just find ourselves a fullback who can play. Tony Richardson was briefly available this offseason. Just sayin’…
If the Vikes deactivate Tahi, tight end Jeff Dugan would fill the fullback position. Let’s hope he plays well enough for a permanent switch.
Does anyone else think it’s weird that the Vikings are suffering from a rash of symmetric injuries?
Chris Cook has suffered a torn a meniscus in each knee. John Sullivan has suffered an injury to each calf. And Cedric Griffin is out for the season with an ACL injury to the opposite side of the one he just recovered from.
Who’s next? Visanth(e) Shiancoe with an opposite-side hamstring? Brett Favre with left-arm elbow tendinitis?
NFC NORTH DEETS
All NFC North teams play at noon today. Detroit is in New York to play the Giants; the Bears host the Seattle Seahawks; and Green Bay hosts the Dolphins. In the Twin Cities, WCCO TV is carrying the Packers game and Fox is carrying the Bears game.