Who Has The Edge? (Position Grid)  


Cowboys' hot streak likely to end in Minnesota


A position-by-position breakdown of the Dallas-Minnesota divisional-round matchup on Sunday.

This is why the Vikings brought in Brett Favre. It's money time and he'd better deliver. Historically, Favre has not played well vs. the Cowboys, but this is Favre's first time playing Dallas with Minnesota. He is going to have to get rid of the ball quickly and avoid gambling against this aggressive defense. As hot as Romo is, Favre is also playing well.

Brett Favre

Adrian Peterson's influence on the game will be instrumental. Dallas' defense hasn't had to deal with a punishing ground game of late and if he can get into any type of rhythm, it could make the Cowboys play a little less aggressively. Let's also not forget about Peterson's backup Chester Taylor, who has been effective running the ball, and is also a serious threat as a receiver.

The big-play ability of Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian is there, but will they be able to show it off? Dallas has done a solid job of taking away the big play of late. Minnesota could break off some big chunks should it get its play-action game working. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe could post some decent numbers.

Visanthe Shiancoe

Minnesota's front is going to be stressed more than Dallas' because of the variety of looks the Cowboys employ. Guard Steve Hutchinson will be fine, but everyone else is going to have to be at their best to guard against the loop stunts Dallas likes to run with OLB Anthony Spencer and DT Jay Ratliff. LT Bryant McKinnie should get some help with DeMarcus Ware. He better.

Steve Hutchinson

Allen could be the biggest difference-maker in this game. If he is able to put pressure on Romo, that could change the way Dallas' offense operates and it could force the QB into mistakes. The Williams tandem need to form a stout wall and be aware of some of the cutback plays and draws the Cowboys like to run.

Minnesota's Chad Greenway has been extremely productive. His ability to run and make sure tackles could be a huge asset against Dallas. Rookie MLB Jasper Brinkley is a big-time thumper, but Dallas will try to exploit him by throwing on first and second down. Ben Leber is very reliable and always seems to be around the ball.

CB Antoine Winfield has had a week to let his problematic foot heal even further. He should be better in coverage. Where he will help most is with his tackling. Dallas' receivers are big-time gainers after contact, but Winfield can get guys to the ground. Safeties Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams have been inconsistent in coverage and will be targeted.

Placekicker Ryan Longwell is money: 26 of 28 on field goals this season. He's as reliable as it gets. Minnesota's special teams are also exceptional, with Harvin a frightening threat. Jaymar Johnson is also dangerous in the return game.

For everything he's been through, Brad Childress has done a solid job of making a good team better and quickly resolving his problems with Favre, so there weren't any public issues that lingered. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier interviewed for two head-coaching jobs in the down week and is a strong candidate in Buffalo.

The Vikings are 8-0 at home for a reason. Favre is here to win these types of games, but he also has the potential to make that one critical mistake. The Vikings need to get off to a quick start and establish that they have the muscle to slug it out with the physical visitors.

Tony Romo is playing at a very high level, especially in the decision-making department. His pre-snap reads have been excellent and he's followed those up with accurate throws. Romo will be hearing reverberating crowd noise and feeling a lot more heat in passing situations than he's dealt with the past few weeks. Poise is a must.

Marion Barber's knee is still bugging him, but Dallas could need him on some short-yardage carries. Otherwise, Tashard Choice and Felix Jones have shown they can handle things. Both are better running on the perimeter, but each showed they can use their shiftiness and speed on stretch and delayed draw plays. The yards will come tough against a stout defense.

The sheer number of effective receiving options could make things very difficult for the Vikings. Miles Austin has a lot of single-coverage advantages on the perimeter and across the middle. Throw in Patrick Crayton, Jason Witten and yes, Roy Williams, and Romo could have a strong day if he's not under duress.

RT Marc Colombo got off to a slow start last week in his first game back from a leg injury, which caused him to miss seven games. LT Flozell Adams is going to have to be consistent against sack specialist Jared Allen. C Andre Gurode and guards Kyle Kosier and Leonard Davis will have their hands full with DTs Pat and Kevin Williams.

Flozell Adams

Ratliff, Ratliff and more Ratliff. The lightening quick, super-strong nose tackle is relentless against the run or pass. If he gets going and is able to split gaps and get penetration, the Vikings are going to be in trouble. Ends Igor Olshansky and Marcus Spears are physical worker bees, who allow Ware and Spencer to shine.

Ware and Spencer have been playing at a completely different level. Spencer, in particular, has been very effective with the way coach Wade Phillips moves him around. ILBs Keith Brooking and Bradie James have also stepped up, with James making more plays near the line of scrimmage and Brooking bogging down offenses from guard-to-guard.

CBs Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman were phenomenal against Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. There is no reason to think they won't be as effective against Minnesota's wideouts. The overlooked guy is safety Gerald Sensabaugh. Sensabaugh is a solid tackler, but has been very good in coverage, especially against tight ends.

Jones and Crayton form a dynamic kickoff/punt-return tandem that can break one at any time. Dallas also has some of the best coverage units in the NFL, using directional punts and kicks to limit returns. Dallas snuffed out Philly's returner extraordinaire Jackson three times this season. The shaky link is kicker Shaun Suisham.

Patrick Crayton

A joke no more, Phillips got the playoff monkey off his back last week and he has outfoxed opposing coaches with the way he's dialed up his defense from play-to-play. Lost in everything that has gone on has been absolutely brilliant play-calling and scheming by offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.

Dallas is the hottest team in the NFC, having steamrolled Philadelphia the past two weeks. If the Cowboys are able to get an early lead, silence the crowd and turn the defense loose after Favre, they could very well advance to the next round. Romo's poise will be tested big time.



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