As is customary during the weeks that the Vikings play a non-divisional opponent, I've exchanged five questions with the SBNation blogger that covers our opponent. This week, that distinction goes to Dave Halprin from our outstanding Cowboys blog, Blogging the Boys. You can read my responses to the questions he posed right here. Here we go!
1) The Cowboys' defense, just from looking at the stats, appears to be similar to the Vikings' defense in that they're very strong against the run and considerably weaker against the pass. Why, exactly, do you think this is?
A combination of injuries and some suspect talent at certain positions. On the injury front we started the year with Terence Newman out and that forced us to play Jacques Reeves who had never been a starter before. We got Newman back on the field but his foot injury isn't completely healed and he picked up some tendinitis in his knee. Then a couple of weeks ago we lost the starter on the other side Anthony Henry who was leading the league with 4 INT's and he will miss this game also. Jacques Reeves has improved as a CB and is playing OK, but we've been using Nate Jones as our nickel corner and he had major problems last week keeping up with Wes Welker. Strong safety Roy Williams isn't the best guy in coverage so we have some holes back there. If we could get Newman and Henry healthy at the same time, along with the improvement that Reeves has shown, we could be a lot better. But right now, it's definitely our weakness.
2) Dallas is the first team that the Vikings have seen this year that runs a 3-4 defense. What are some of the aspects of the 3-4 that you think might give the Vikings trouble?
A lot of teams have trouble picking up where the blitz is coming from in a 3-4 because of the four linebackers on the field. Besides the front three down linemen on defense, the Cowboys will bring at least one of the linebackers into the rush, and often two. Picking out those blocking assignments are sometimes troublesome for teams that haven't played against it often. You also get different blocking assignments in the running game because one of the guards has to get to the second level and pick up one of the two inside linebackers. So in general, it can change blocking schemes that you use against a standard 4-3. It also puts a lot of speed on the field and is pretty good about pursuing the ball to the edges. Often teams will try to pound the ball against a 3-4 in hopes that the bigger line will wear down the linebackers who have to take on blocks from guards and other linemen. In the secondary, there's not much difference from 4-3 alignments in coverage.
3) Another respect in which the Cowboys and Vikings are similar is that they have two running backs splitting carries, with one being far more productive/explosive than the other. Do you like the way that the Cowboys are handling the Julius Jones/Marion Barber III combination, or would you do something differently if you were Wade Phillips?
My standard line had been that if it ain't broke don't fix it. That was fine until we almost lost, then lost and our offense has started every game very slowly. I don't mind the split in carries, they both get about 50% of the touches, but the Cowboys need to consider starting Marion Barber. He brings energy to the offense when he runs just because of his physical style and the way he punishes defenders making the tackle. The kid is all heart. So they can continue to split up the carries, but I want Barber to start the game and get this offense in gear early in the game instead of the second half when we usually come alive. But, Wade Phillips made it pretty clear the Julius Jones will continue to start, so unless he lied, nothing is changing.
4) Tony Romo has, at times, looked like a spectacular quarterback, but he's also had games where he's looked pretty terrible (specifically the Monday Night affair against the Bills). Do you suppose there's a chance that he might develop into the sort of "Good Romo/Bad Romo" quarterback that Chicago has had to deal with when it comes to Rex Grossman, or do you think he can overcome his inconsistencies?
I don't have any fear that Tony Romo will end up anything like Rex Grossman. He's simply a much more gifted quarterback. Everybody saw the Monday night game against Buffalo and that was just a terrible performance for three and a half quarters. But that's the only game this year where he hasn't been good, and in most of them he has been stellar. He's only started 16 games so he is really just finished with being a rookie. He's 11-5 over that span and only Kurt Warner has thrown for more passing yards in their first 16 games starting. His numbers, 4,348 yards, 31 touchdowns and 19 picks are spectacular for a QB just beginning his playing career. We know Romo is good, we just don't know how good he will be yet.
5) How do you see Sunday's game unfolding? Do the Vikings have a shot at upsetting the Cowboys, or should Dallas roll pretty easily in this one?
Any team that can run the ball like the Vikings can and can back that up with excellent run defense has a shot in any NFL game. To me, those are always the fundamentals of building a strong team, I know there are exceptions to that, but in general if you can do those things you're not far away from breaking through. But given that, I think on the road against a very mad and very talented Cowboys team that desperately wants to win before going into the BYE week might be too much to overcome. If the game unfolds like most Dallas games, it will be close going through the first half, but Dallas will turn on the offense in the second half and pull away. Except that is a dangerous formula to live by so I would hope Dallas is more aggressive offensively early in the game.