NFL Preview - Minnesota (1-6) at Dallas (4-4)|
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - You may think that Leslie Frazier is a big fan of duck,
duck, goose but he's really just a desperate NFL coach grasping at straws.
Early indications are that the ineffective Christian Ponder is the goose this
week and will remain under center for the 1-6 Minnesota Vikings as the try to
stop an ugly three-game skid against a Dallas Cowboys team coming off its own
crushing loss in Detroit.
The Vikings have been outscored 102-48 during their current losing streak and
have used three different quarterbacks -- veteran backup Matt Cassel against
Carolina, newly acquired Josh Freeman versus the New York Giants, and Ponder
last Sunday night in a 44-31 drubbing at the hands of Aaron Rodgers and the
Green Bay Packers.
Ponder, who is 0-4 as a starter this season, was his usual ineffective self
against the Pack, completing 14-of-21 passes for just 145 yards. Adrian
Peterson ran for 60 yards and a score on 13 carries, while also adding three
receptions for 23 yards for Minnesota.
The bigger problem was the defense, however. Rodgers and the Packers converted
on 13-of-18 third-down attempts and were two-for-two on fourth down as Green
Bay never punted and scored on all seven drives that didn't end either the
half or the game.
And understand the Packers did all of that without the services of receivers
Randall Cobb and James Jones -- two of their top three receivers who were lost
to injury against the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 13 -- along with dynamic tight
end Jermichael Finley, who suffered a scary neck injury during a win over
"We couldn't find a way to get off the field on third down, and it really came
back to haunt us," Frazier understated.
The Cowboys are also coming off a disappointing setback, albeit one in which
they were far more competitive.
The Lions' Matthew Stafford lunged for a touchdown in the finals seconds to
give Detroit a 31-30 victory over Dallas in a thriller at Ford Field last
Detroit trailed by six points with 1:02 left and started the winning drive at
its own 20. A 17-yard catch from Calvin Johnson was followed by Stafford's
toss down the left sideline for Kris Durham for 40 yards. Stafford then went
back to Johnson for 22 yards down to the Dallas 1 and raced to set up a spike.
However, Stafford leaped after the snap and just got the ball over the goal
line. After a review determined he had crossed the plane, David Akers kicked
the extra point and the Lions had a 31-30 lead with 12 seconds to play.
Dallas had one shot after the kickoff, but didn't get anywhere with a catch
and laterals as time ran out.
Stafford finished the game with 488 yards passing and Johnson set a career-
high with 329 yards on 14 catches with a score for the Lions, coming just
seven yards short of the NFL record for most receiving yards in one game, set
by Flipper Anderson.
Tony Romo was 14-for-30 for 206 yards and three touchdown passes, with Dez
Bryant catching three balls for 72 yards and two scores for the Cowboys, who
had won two straight coming in and still lead the dismal NFC East by one game
over Philadelphia despite being at .500.
"We didn't do what we needed to do to win the ball game, period," said Dallas
head coach Jason Garrett. "They did, we didn't and we have to live with that.
It starts with me, then the coaching staff, and then the players. We had
opportunities to end the game, and we didn't."
Minnesota leads the all-time series with a slim 11-10 advantage and has won
five of six from the Cowboys.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Ponder is shot mentally but even if the light inexplicably goes off for him
this week, Minnesota is still behind the 8-ball with its defense which ranks
30th in the NFL in both points per game (32.1) and yards (401.6).
The group also hasn't generated a turnover since safety Harrison Smith,
perhaps the only difference-maker on the unit, was placed on short-term
injured reserve with turf foe three weeks ago.
With Smith the Vikings have one of the worst secondaries in football and they
will likely be down two more starters in Dallas with safety Jamarca Sanford
(groin) and cornerback Chris Cook (hip) unlikely to go.
On the season Minnesota has allowed opponents to convert a league-high 51.0
percent on third downs, an almost incomprehensible failure at every level.
"You've got to look at how we're doing it, what we're doing schematically, and
also the people that you're asking to do certain things," Frazier said. "Can
they get it done? Do we need to be doing something different based on the
people that we're asking to execute the defense?"
The answer to that seems obvious but this Vikings regime has always been more
lip service and no matter what is said during the week, things stay the same
Romo along with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten figure to eat this secondary's
lunch, meaning Minnesota's only chance is to win a shootout and that's simply
untenable with Ponder running things.
The skittish, third-year Florida State product also talked a good game before
last week's debacle against the Packers, saying he no longer had anything to
lose after being benched the first time and wasn't going to play the shrinking
Instead, when the bullets began to fly, he regressed to the one-read and go
quarterback, who simply can't advance through his progressions. Ponder failed
to let plays develop and locate wide open receivers downfield, instead tucking
the ball and flushing right again and again.
Ponder is clearly the team's third-best option at QB right now but for
whatever reason the headstrong Frazier fails to recognize that and therefore
the Vikings won't be able to take advantage of Dallas' NFL-worst defense,
which allows 422.5 yards a game.
The Cowboys' D surrendered 623 total yards to Detroit but the team's real
dysfunction revolves around Bryant, who was seemingly so jealous of the
attention Johnson was getting from Stafford, he blew up on two
different occasions in Detroit.
Bryant hauled in two brilliant touchdown receptions himself but only had three
catches overall and was targeted just six times compared to the 16 looks
Johnson got from Stafford.
Dez's first tirade was the more difficult one to defend, but the second will
be most remembered because Witten got in Bryant's face and called him on his
actions. Dallas was actually on top, 13-7, when Bryant aimed his anger at
receivers coach Derek Dooley and Romo with the typical "get me the ball" rant
that is a staple of every out-of-touch receiver who can't seem to comprehend
football is the ultimate team game.
Believe it or not, the Lions don't want to target Johnson 16 times in a game,
but Nate Burleson's injury has elevated the underwhelming Kris Durham and the
now-injured Ryan Broyles to less-than-desirous complements.
On the other hand, with Witten, ascending rookie Terrance Williams, and even
emerging slot receiver Cole Beasley available, Romo can actually look away
from Bryant every now and again, a luxury which actually helps and is
something his star receiver is not capable of understanding.
The sequel to Bryant's first rant came after Monte Kiffin's defense imploded
in the final minute, but this time the only personalities on the Cowboys'
sidelines strong enough to deal with it intervened. The 6-foot-6, 261-pound
tough-as-nails Witten got in Bryant's face before injured defensive end
DeMarcus Ware stepped in and played the role of Mills Lane in order to settle
the unhinged Bryant down.
"My passion is always positive," Bryant said after the game in an effort to
downplay his actions. "It's always positive. It's going to remain the same
way. I'm not saying anything wrong. I'm not saying anything bad. It's all
positive. That's just what it is."
To any objective observer, Bryant's tantrums were anything but positive and
hardly smacked of constructive criticism, but he wasn't about to apologize for
any of it.
"That's (the media's) problem," Bryant answered when asked how his behavior
looked to people outside the Cowboys' inner circle. "Everybody knows up in
this locker room who I am. It's been that way since Day 1. The day that I got
drafted, like I told y'all, don't get it twisted: I love this game. I love my
teammates. That's what it is."
Dallas needs to stop enabling Bryant before it's too late.
This game figures to be a tonic for a Cowboys team coming off the devastating
loss marred further by the sideline antics of Bryant.
Of course, compared to the Vikings and their Keystone Cops-like dysfunction,
Dallas is "Team Chemistry."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 41, Vikings 13
10/31 16:08:27 ET