The Dallas Cowboys suffered another heartbreaking loss Sunday when they dropped what appeared to be their fifth victory. Instead, the team is back in a very familiar position of disappointment with a .500 record heading into Week 9.
The Dallas offense played fairly well against the Detroit Lions, scoring at least 30 points for the fifth time this season. However, the defense was quite awful. Despite forcing four turnovers, Dallas surrendered another 400-yard passing game, its fourth in eight games.
This week, the Cowboys look to bounce back and extend their lead in the NFC East, which is currently at one game. They’ll take on the Minnesota Vikings, who are 1-6 thus far.
Although Dallas will be heavy favorites heading into this game, it knows that means nothing in the NFL. In order for the Cowboys to come out on top, they’ll have to win some key individual matchups.
LB Sean Lee vs. RB Adrian Peterson
The one bright point on the Cowboys defense all year has been linebacker Sean Lee. He leads the team with 81 tackles, 20 more than anyone else.
Lee will have a difficult test in trying to stop one of the NFL’s best running backs in Adrian Peterson.
Though not on pace to match his epic 2012 campaign, Peterson is still performing very well for a less-than-stellar team. He’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry and has seven total touchdowns.
This Lee-Peterson matchup will prove to be extremely important in determining the winner of this game. The Cowboys have done a great job of stuffing the run all season, but they haven’t faced an opponent quite like Peterson.
Minnesota will be looking to feed their Pro Bowl back as often as possible. He’s their best option to move the football and prevent Dallas’ offense from dominating the time of possession. If Lee can win this battle, it’s going to be a long game for the Vikings.
LT Tyron Smith vs. DE Jared Allen
Another Cowboy who’s been extremely dependable is left tackle Tyron Smith. He’s been Dallas' best offensive lineman by far, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
Smith has been tested a few times this year by premier pass-rushers. In Week 9 he’ll face another in five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen.
Like Peterson, Allen’s production is slower than it’s been in years past. However, his 4.5 sacks is good enough to put him in the top 25 in the league.
This matchup is the one in the trenches to watch when the Cowboys have the ball. If Smith can dominate like he has in recent games, quarterback Tony Romo will have plenty of time to deliver the ball. On the other hand, if Allen can be a consistent disruption in the backfield, Dallas could have some issues on offense.
WR Dez Bryant vs. CB Josh Robinson/Chris Cook
The last crucial battle to keep an eye on is wide receiver Dez Bryant against the Vikings secondary. Either cornerback Josh Robinson or Chris Cook will be assigned to Bryant most likely. They won’t be able to handle him alone, though.
Bryant has had a magnificent first half of the season, despite his sideline “blowup” against the Lions. He’s got 45 receptions for 641 yards and eight touchdowns. The receiver had a ridiculous second half of the year in 2012, so if he can do anything close to that, he’ll have his best statistical season to date.
After being outplayed by Calvin Johnson in Week 8, Bryant is poised to have a monster outing against Minnesota. He’s got another favorable matchup this week as the Vikings rank 30th in total defense.
Minnesota will have to put an emphasis on trying to contain the receiver, because he’s Dallas’ main offensive weapon. With just about zero running game to speak of, the Cowboys will be passing early and often.
I don’t see anyone on the Vikings capable of stopping Bryant, so they’ll have to use a variety of schemes to slow him down. Bryant probably won’t gain 300 yards through the air, but he will impact the game significantly.
All statistics via Pro-Football-Reference.com unless indicated otherwise.