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Vikings-Cowboys: 5 Storylines To Watch

Posted Oct 29, 2013

The Vikings and Cowboys will meet for the first time since 2010 this Sunday, with both teams looking to get on the winning track after suffering losses to NFC North teams last week. The Vikings lost to Green Bay at home on Sunday Night Football, while the Cowboys dropped a heart-breaker to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

Sunday’s game will mark the Vikings trip to AT&T Stadium, a venue that was designed by HKS Sports & Entertainment, the same architectural firm that was selected to design the Vikings new stadium.

Let’s take a look at five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Cowboys prepare to battle…

Vikings

1. Romo licking his chops, Vikings licking their wounds
The Vikings passing defense and the secondary specifically took a significant step forward against the NY Giants two weeks ago. Unfortunately that improvement didn’t lead to a victory, but it was the source of some optimism heading into the showdown with Green Bay last Sunday night. But that optimism was quickly dashed by Aaron Rodgers, who was surgical while attacking the Vikings defense and finished the game going 24 of 29 for 285 yards with two touchdown and no interceptions.

The task doesn’t get any easier this Sunday with Tony Romo and the high-flying Cowboys offense waiting for the Vikings. The Cowboys rank in the Top 10 in all major passing categories this season, including third in touchdowns (18), fourth in completions (195), fifth in yards (2,216) and sixth in passer rating (101.7). Conversely, the Vikings have struggled against the pass for the balance of the season, ranking 27th in passer rating allowed (97.7), 29th in opponent’s completion percentage (67.3%) and tied for 31st in touchdowns allowed (16). Not helping matters is the fact that injuries have mounted up on defense, particularly in the secondary. Harrison Smith will not play in this game and Jamarca Sanford left last week’s game against the Packers with a groin injury.

The Vikings will need a blend of improved pass rush and improved coverage in the secondary to slow down Romo, who is in the midst of a career year. He’s on pace to tie a career high in touchdowns and a career low in interceptions.

2. Who will play quarterback for the Vikings?
At the time of this posting, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier had not yet disclosed who his starting quarterback will be for Sunday. He all but ruled Matt Cassel out of the mix on Monday, meaning it’ll be either Josh Freeman or Christian Ponder who gets the nod. Ponder regained the starting role last week when it was announced Freeman was experiencing concussion-like symptoms following the loss to the Giants. But Freeman has since been cleared and is set to practice with his new team this week.

Vikings

3. The Cowboys are banged up on the defensive line
One area where the Vikings could have an advantage in this game is up front – offensively. The Cowboys could be down as many as two or three starters along their defensive front, and that includes one of the best defensive ends in the NFL – DeMarcus Ware. There would be no better time for the Vikings to get their running game going than this week, where they will be playing on the road in a hostile environment against a group that is dealing with injuries. Besides, you can be sure Adrian Peterson would like nothing better than to break off a few big runs in the state where his prolific career began.

Vikings

4. Adrian Peterson needs to get looose!
This was a headline in last week’s matchup, it’s a continuation of sorts of Headline No. 3 this week and it’s going to remain a headline in this weekly piece until it happens. Everything the Vikings do offensively is predicated on running the football in a productive manner. When the Vikings are running the ball productively, they are staying ahead of schedule in the down and distance and they are sustaining drives. When the Vikings offense is doing that, there is less pressure on the special teams group and the defense is on the sidelines resting, something they haven’t done much of late. In last week’s loss, the Packers held a time of possession advantage of 40:54 to 19:06, which is a function of a lot of problems on the Vikings end such as not sustaining drives, allowing too many rushing yards on early downs and poor 3rd-down defense, etc. But all of those problems and, ultimately, the time of possession disadvantage, will be at least partially solved once the Vikings can get the reigning MVP on track.

5. Happy Returns
There’s a nice matchup on special teams this week between the Vikings kickoff return group and the Cowboys kickoff team. The Vikings rank first in the NFL in average field position after a kickoff return (26.1 yardline), while the Cowboys rank tied for second in opponents average starting field position after kickoff (20.0 yardline). Cordarrelle Patterson, who opened last week’s game against Green Bay with a 109-yard return touchdown, now leads the NFL with 709 kickoff return yards, a 39.1-yard average on kickoff returns and two touchdowns. The Cowboys, meanwhile, are tied for second in the NFL with 34 touchbacks and they’ve allowed just two returns of 30+ yards, no returns of 50+ yards and they are allowing an average of just 21.7 yards per return, which ranks seventh.