Pressing Questions  

C-Spire  

Volume on field at Metrodome will be set to max

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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The Cowboys finally won a playoff game last week after 13 years of frustration. Now Brett Favre must do what the Vikings brought him to Minnesota for. Win in the playoffs.

Both the Cowboys and Vikings rank in the top 10 on offense and defense. Each team wants to run the ball but faces top-five run defenses. At the same time, both can quickly turn to the pass if the going gets tough on the ground. Here are the three questions that have to be answered for this matchup.

1. How big is the Vikings' home-field advantage?

I have been on the sidelines of a Viking game as an opposing coach and I think Mall of America Field is the loudest place to play in the league. The Vikings were 8-0 at home in the regular season, where they averaged 32.8 points a game. They were just as good on defense, giving up just 15.5 points a game in front of the home crowd. The Cowboys were 5-3 on the road and averaged 20.3 points a game while surrendering 17.4.

Favre has been an absolute terror at home, throwing 21 touchdowns to just two interceptions and 11 sacks. That works out to be a touchdown every 13 pass attempts for Favre.

Tony Romo has been solid on the road with just four interceptions away from Dallas. But Romo does get sacked once every 15 pass attempts away from Cowboys Stadium. Romo's road production is a bit sluggish, with just 12 touchdowns or one every 25 pass attempts.

Neither does much on defense when it comes to interceptions -- the teams tied for 26th in the league with 11 picks -- so there should be some big passing numbers if the rush doesn't get to the quarterbacks.

2. Which pass rush will dominate?

Sooner or later one of these teams is going to have to abandon the run and throw the ball to rally. If it's the Cowboys, they are in some trouble -- not so much with the secondary but with the pass rush. If you're wondering if Romo is going to be under some heat, the Vikings recorded 22 sacks, 49 hits on the QB and 50 tackles for a loss at home. The Vikings don't have to blitz to get to quarterbacks, especially with Jared Allen (14.5 sacks) blocked by Flozell Adams, who often struggles with the crowd noise on the road.

Favre throws more deep balls than Romo -- he averages 34 passes a game at home -- and will need protection. DeMarcus Ware gets a good matchup against Bryant McKinnie, who was benched a few weeks ago when Favre was getting physically beat up. While Ware is the featured pass rusher in Dallas, NT Jay Ratliff will line up against first-year starter John Sullivan and OLB Anthony Spencer will face rookie tackle Phil Loadholt. Ratliff and Spencer have 12 sacks between them and will get their shots on Favre. The Cowboys' defense has been hot of late, as evidenced by the unit's four sacks on Donovan McNabb last week. Look for the Vikings to counter the pass rush with the screens and the newly developed passing game to Adrian Peterson, who quietly doubled his receiving production this season.

3. Does Favre have enough gas left in the tank?

All eyes are on the 40-year-old QB who skipped camp, showed up late and proceeded to have his best year of a very long career. The original plan was to limit his throws to the 20-25 range all season, but of course circumstances and his lively arm washed all of that away. Favre had five games with at least 40 throws and averaged just over 33.2 passes a game.

Favre did a great job of taking the sack and not throwing the interception. He also hit his two running backs 87 times on short check downs and screens. The domed stadium, where he averaged 288.4 passing yards a game, has helped him.

The Cowboys' rush will be fierce. Against a secondary that likes to play off coverage, look for a number of short slant routes to Favre's favorite receivers Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe.

Still, the long ball is never out of the question with Favre. In fact, Favre has thrown deep 23 times this season to just 14 for Romo. Favre will waste little time going after Dallas' safeties and that usually means a lot of passes in the direction of Shiancoe. On the other side, Romo will waste no time attacking Minnesota's safeties with Jason Witten.

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