For the second consecutive year, the Dallas Cowboys are dealing with injury turmoil entering the second half of the season. About half of their preseason defensive starters are hurt, and injuries to Brian Waters, Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray have impacted the offense.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, they draw an opponent this week that they should be capable of defeating regardless of how banged up they are. The Minnesota Vikings are 1-6 with myriad issues. They scored only 10 offensive points in Weeks 6 and 7 before giving up 44 in Week 8, and their embarrassing quarterback carousel has them starting Christian Ponder again this week in Dallas.
Here's a final preview of the matchup from Dallas' perspective, along with a prediction...
What Dallas must do to win, offensive edition
Get DeMarco Murray and the running game rolling. Tony Romo hasn't been himself with Murray out, but he's back now. The key to opening up opportunities for Dez Bryant and Jason Witten is to suck this D in. It won't be easy, because the Vikes are giving up just 3.8 yards per carry on D this year.
What Dallas must do to win, defensive edition
Don't let Adrian Peterson hijack the game. The Vikings have three bad quarterbacks with a combined average passer rating of 69.6. Even though Dallas' secondary is shorthanded, the only real threat this defense faces is Peterson. Good thing the 'Boys have Sean Lee.
Five most important non-quarterbacks
Murray: See "What Dallas must do to win, offensive edition."
Lee: See "What Dallas must do to win, defensive edition."
Bryant and Witten: Romo has to find his top two targets more consistently than he has of late.
Bruce Carter: Wanna bet he gets plenty of blitz opportunities? When facing blitzes this season, Ponder has zero touchdowns, three interceptions, a completion percentage of 41.5 and a passer rating of 30.9, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Pro Football Focus
Injury analysis, Vikings edition
Defensive backs Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford both missed practice all week for the Vikes. If they don't play, Bryant and Witten could have a field day as Dallas stretches that defense thin.
Also, Peterson and Greg Jennings are banged up on the offensive side of the ball, but they'll both likely play and be big factors.
Who will win Sunday?
Injury analysis, Cowboys edition
Defensive starters Morris Claiborne and J.J. Wilcox are already out, and DeMarcus Ware is doubtful. Meanwhile, offensive starter Brian Waters is already out, and Miles Austin is doubtful. They need guys like Jason Hatcher, George Selvie, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Terrance Williams to step it up.
B/R NFC East blog prediction: Cowboys 31, Vikings 16
I don't think the Vikings have the weapons to take advantage of the banged-up Dallas defense. The Cowboys should win handily back at home.