How Can the Dallas Cowboys Neutralize Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings?

Samuel Bell JrSenior Analyst IJanuary 11, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 19:  Linebacker DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Dallas Cowboys sacks quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints at the Louisiana Superdome on December 19, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

We are not used to this.

We aren't used to witnessing the Dallas Cowboys have success in December, much less January.

Tony Romo is usually home romancing beautiful women and throwing burning matches and accelerant on Terrell Owens' head-shot by now.

2009 is different. From the release of T.O. to the amazing overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Cowboys have taken on a different persona.

Okay, beating the Chiefs isn't amazing, but Dallas learned a lot about themselves after that game.

They learned they could persevere. Come together. Play with the wind against them and still come out triumphant.

The Cowboys figured out that they're, well, the Cowboys, and that's pretty darn good.

Beating the then unblemished New Orleans Saints didn't hurt.

So what do Romo and the 'Boys have in store for the NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings?

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Romo has looked unstoppable in recent weeks, and a season sweep and playoff blowout over the rival Philadelphia Eagles have them riding high.

I haven't seen the Cowboys play with such reckless abandon on defense, while keeping their assignments and working together since Darren Woodson and Neon Deion donned Cowboy blue.

Everyone on the team is playing together, and look like they actually believe they can win week in and week out, no matter the foe against them.

None of this bodes well for 40-year-old Brett Favre and his offense, or sack-master Jared Allen and the Vikings D.

Contrastingly to the Cowboys, Minny has rode into the playoffs on an inconsistent wave, going from at least the second-best team in the league to the fourth (Saints, Chargers, Cowboys, some would argue Indy, I wouldn't).

Minnesota lost two of their last three entering the post-season tournament, and looked terrible defensively in losses to the Bears and Panthers.

Favre has had an amazingly good and convincing fountain-of-youth trip, and Peterson has been able to preserve himself with less offensive weight to carry.

Favre hasn't been the gun-slinging turnover machine this season, but Peterson has as he led the league in fumbles lost for backs with six.

What must Dallas do to make the sometimes head-scratchingly inconsistent Vikings look that way Sunday?

Here are three keys on both sides of the ball for a Cowboys win.

COWBOYS OFFENSE VS. VIKINGS DEFENSE

1. Tony Romo must be protected.

Romo can't beat anyone from the ground, and playing against the likes of Jared Allen and Ray Edwards he will be there a lot if the line can't protect him.

As cliche as this sounds, it's extremely important against a pass rusher like Allen. Minnesota has to protect it's inconsistent secondary, and nothing is better to rid that affliction than QB pressure from the front-4.

Getting Marc Colombo back for Dallas is a help, but it's not like Doug Free did a bad job in his place. Dallas has an offensive line that plays very well and cohesive as a unit.

Allen, Edwards and the Williams duo vs. Romo and the o-line may very well determine the outcome of this game.

2. Miles Austin must be a factor.

Austin has exploded onto the NFL elite WR scene in 2009, and he must continue to put up numbers if the Cowboys want to represent the NFC in the championship game.

When Owens left, everyone wondered who would step in and take the reins as no. 1 receiver, and Austin shouted loud and clear that he was the man with his play on the field.

Roy E. Williams hasn't done much more than babble random comments all season, and despite his belief that he is a legitimate No. 1, his drops and dispassionate route running has said otherwise.

Patrick Crayton has stepped up as a favorite target of Romo's, but nobody is as important as Austin to the Cowboys pass offense.

Austin will see different coverages and double-teams all game, but he must find a way to get outside of the coverage and make an impact.

If not, Romo will have to depend on Mr. Consistent TE Jason Witten, Crayton, and Williams. That may not be enough.

3. Dallas must stay on the field and sustain drives.

Nothing is worse for a defense than having their offense go three-and-out consistently to keep them on the field.

It's even more painful when the opposition is Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, and Sidney Rice.

Bottom line, Romo and the Cowboy offense must stay on the field. By utilizing the running game and clock management, Dallas can keep the ball out of Favre and Peterson's dangerous hands.

In addition, they tire out the Viking D and may see Felix Jones break loose again on a long run. Sustained drives, more chance for points, tired Vikings D and the ball spends less time in Favre's hands.

Sounds like a winning formula to me.

COWBOYS DEFENSE VS. VIKINGS OFFENSE

1. Pressure Brett Favre early and often!

Everyone who's ever watched Favre knows he has the penchant to turn the ball over, especially when pressured greatly.

This may be just what the doctor requested for DeMarcus Ware and that Dallas defense.

The Cowboys come into this game playing extremely well on the defensive side of the ball, holding the explosive Eagles to just 14 points in the last two games.

Ware has been getting to the QB and forcing turnovers, and his friends on the D, Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer, have also wreaked havoc on opposing QB's.

Minnesota has a good offensive line led by Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie. Those guys will have to hold back Ware and the gang for four quarters.

If Favre gets time, he will hit his targets Visanthe Shiancoe, Rice, Bernard Berrian, and Percy Harvin often.

If that Cowboy defense gets to him, Favre may have three or more turnovers.

2. Get Adrian Peterson on the ground the first time.

Peterson is one of the most violent, tough runners we've seen in quite some time. Every player has a weakness, and fumbling is Peterson's.

One of the biggest mistakes opposing tacklers make with Peterson is that they try and hit him forcefully without wrapping him up, or reach for the strip and miss while he keeps going.

As Bears LB Hunter Hillenmeyer has shown, stripping Peterson multiple times, it's better to corral him first before reaching aimlessly for the football. Each time Hillenmeyer stripped him, he had him in a tackle first.

Dallas has a defensive weakness of arm tackling, especially in the secondary. Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins, and Gerald Sensabaugh must wrap up on Peterson before he runs right through their arms.

Ken Hamlin is probably the best tackler in the secondary, and he has to be sure too that he follows through on his hits or A.P. may have a huge day.

3. Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman have to blanket Vikings receivers.

Jenkins has been perhaps the second-best corner of late to Jets CB Darrelle Revis, and he has to keep that up heading into this Vikings showdown.

Jenkins tends to take too many risks at times, thus giving up big plays to opposing receivers.

Newman is a veteran who sneaks in coverage and gets to spots deceptively quick, and will pick off a pass if given any opportunity.

Hamlin is more of a run support safety, but his versatility makes him formidable in pass defense also. Dallas' weakness may be Sensabaugh at SS, and Favre will exploit this.

Therefore, Jenkins and Newman have to be ball hawks who are focused on the defensive game plan and make plays when the opportunities are there.

If the defensive line is getting pressure on Favre, it will be easier to cover that good group of receivers.

If the Vikings o-line protects Favre, then it is on Jenkins and Newman to keep the likes of Shiancoe and Rice from carving up their secondary.