Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' win over the Cowboys
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 24-21 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
Tender elbow and all, Brett Favre's accuracy mostly was fine as he survived an early beating for an efficient performance (14-of-19 passing, 118 yards, one touchdown, 106.9 rating) -- albeit one in which his longest completion was 20 yards. He got hit eight times, including on the first two plays of the game. Two of three sacks were at least partly his fault for holding the ball all day; one of them knocked the Vikings out of field-goal range. Favre threw a 10-yard touchdown to WR Greg Camarillo and gave WR Randy Moss a shot for a 20-yarder that fell incomplete. He recovered a bad snap and hit TE Jimmy Kleinsasser to convert one third down in the second half, stuck Moss in the chest with a bullet to convert another. He probably cost the Vikings a big gain by throwing low for WR Bernard Berrian on a slant -- a pass Favre has missed too often this season -- and his back-shoulder pass for WR Greg Lewis on third-and-6 late was in such a tough spot he's lucky officials flagged CB Mike Jenkins for pass interference. Jenkins nearly intercepted a late pass across the field that could have gone for six the wrong way. This probably was Favre's steadiest performance all season, but he wasn't asked to do a ton either. His resiliency while getting knocked around -- including a shot to the ribs that had him gasping for breath on all fours -- shouldn't be overlooked.
Running backs (2½)
Outside of a power-left run that went for 15 yards and a throwaway zone for 12 late in the first half, HB Adrian Peterson (44 snaps) averaged 2.1 yards on 22 carries, including 15 that went for 2 yards or less. His failure to secure Favre's handoff led to a fumble and Dallas' first touchdown. Peterson always keeps his legs moving and twice carried a tackler past the first-down marker. His ability to read and make two defenders miss on a 1-yard touchdown run was remarkable. The deactivation of FB Naufahu Tahi augured of punishment, considering HB Albert Young (two) and HB Toby Gerhart (one) barely played. It was enough time for Young to miss a blitz pickup and get Favre sacked by SS Gerald Sensabaugh. Gerhart wouldn't have played at all on offense if Peterson hadn't gotten nicked late. The rookie's lone carry was a mess that somehow went for 4.
The Cowboys rarely pressed Moss (41 snaps) at the line, instead playing soft umbrella coverage to guard against the big play. He split the zone once for 18 yards, made the key third-down grab late and caught five of six balls thrown his way for 55 yards. The one Moss didn't catch could have been a game breaker -- even with FS Alan Ball grabbing his right arm, that's one the Vikings want Moss to bring down in the end zone. His halftime speech seemed to send a message in the locker room. The Vikings finally seem committed to manufacturing touches for Harvin (39). He carried twice for 18 yards on three snaps in the backfield, caught a bubble screen and turned a quick-hitter into a 10-yard gain by corkscrewing MILB Bradie James in the red zone. All of which is without mentioning the 95-yard kickoff return that tied the score and flipped momentum to open the second half. Harvin's three catches for 21 yards in six targets were his fewest since the opener. Berrian (20) played in three-wide sets, caught one pass for 4 yards and took a personal foul for cheap-shotting DE Jason Hatcher after a play. That's not the way to get back in coaches' good graces. The only pass thrown to Lewis (12) was the fade on third-and-6. Personnel groups aside, couldn't someone just tell Moss to run the same route? Camarillo (five) slipped out of a bunch set with an arrow route for the touchdown and caught a screen for 5. For a guy who can't get on the field, he sure makes plays when called upon.
Tight ends (2½)
On a day the Vikings played at least two tight ends on 36 of 53 snaps (67.9%), starter Visanthe Shiancoe (43 snaps) never had the ball thrown his way. He just hasn't looked the same since his hamstring injury. Shiancoe's blocking mostly was fine -- he got a great seal on Sensabaugh to open a hole for Peterson's TD run but also wiped out an 11-yard Peterson burst by holding SLB Anthony Spencer. Kleinsasser (36) and Jeff Dugan (20) both got chances to fill Tahi's role, with mixed results. Dugan let James off the hook in the hole on one play and might have cost the Vikings a touchdown late by going to a covered man instead of Sensabaugh. Kleinsasser mostly was solid blocking and slipped out for two catches, including a wayward-rickshaw rumble for 20 on third-and-4.
Offensive linemen (2½)
With chips or extra blockers on 10 of 22 dropbacks (45.5%) and occasional line slides, LT Bryant McKinnie and RT Phil Loadholt mostly held up well in pass protection against ROLB DeMarcus Ware and LOLB Anthony Spencer, respectively. McKinnie allowed two pressures and Loadholt only one; each had a false start. None of the sacks could be pinned directly on the line, although backup DE Stephen Bowen's bull rush against LG Steve Hutchinson set up the one that knocked the Vikings from field-goal range. Hutchinson allowed two other QB hits and had a missed assignment, going the wrong way and running into C Jon Cooper on a zone-left play. That shouldn't happen to a six-time All-Pro -- even one in decline. NT Jay Ratliff embarrassed Cooper on the opening snap, but the second-year pro seemed to settle in after that. No botched exchanges and no glaring protection-adjustment miscues represented a victory in itself, despite the frequency with which Ratliff and NT Josh Brent worked Cooper back. He owes Favre for averting disaster on the low snap. If Cooper hadn't fallen on his face, Harvin might have had a rushing TD, too. RG Anthony Herrera was the only lineman who didn't allow a pressure. Ryan Cook played one snap as an extra lineman and cleaned out Ware on Peterson's score. There weren't many holes in the run game, particularly inside, but that's an awfully good Dallas front.
Defensive linemen (3½)
The Vikings never sacked QB Tony Romo, but eight hits among 16 total pressures ensured he didn't get comfortable in the pocket. They did it while rushing five or more only seven times in 30 dropbacks (23.3%) against a Cowboys offense that chipped or kept in extra blockers 19 times (63.3%) and rarely threw downfield. RE Jared Allen (59 snaps) got a ton of attention and managed three hits and four total pressures -- including the blow that forced Romo's first interception, which was a gift because LT Doug Free never got out of his stance. LE Ray Edwards (56) also managed four pressures but didn't have his best day against RT Marc Colombo. UT Kevin Williams (54) and NT Pat Williams (45) each hit Romo, too, and did their part in holding Dallas' halfbacks to a 2.6-yard average on 24 carries. Even backups Letroy Guion (14), Brian Robison (13) and Fred Evans (seven) got in on the rush -- Guion and Robison with two pressures each and Evans with another. Hard to argue with that depth of production.
MLB E.J. Henderson (62 snaps) had two career interceptions -- in consecutive games in October 2006 -- before picking off Romo twice. The first was the product of Free's gaffe and a pass that ricocheted off Edwards' helmet. The second was an exceptional play as Henderson dropped out of a blitz and snared Romo's throw for in-breaking TE Jason Witten to set up the winning field goal. Henderson's performance over the past two games are putting to rest concerns about whether he's moving well enough laterally 10½ months after his leg injury to stay on the field in nickel. WLB Chad Greenway (62) simply is everywhere -- his 12 tackles (eight solo) once again led the team. His day would have been even better if he'd held onto Romo's bad-idea slant for WR Miles Austin against zone coverage. Playing base defense only, WLB Ben Leber (44) got in on seven tackles (five solo) and missed two others. When he gets a chance to stop HB Marion Barber at the edge on third-and-1, he has to wrap up.
Defensive backs (3)
The Cowboys kept throwing screens, swings and checkdowns to backs in the flats that went nowhere (5.7-yard average on 15 completions to Barber, HB Felix Jones and FB Chris Gronkowski) because LCB Antoine Winfield can make every tackle. Slicing between Free and C Andre Gurode and wrapping up Austin from the ground for a third-down stop -- that's the epitome of Winfield's game. RCB Asher Allen's best play was falling down to draw a pass-interference call against Austin, wiping out a 68-yard touchdown pass. The only other passes Allen faced were an overthrown end-zone fade for Austin and an in WR Dez Bryant dropped. It's odd the Cowboys didn't test him more -- or play more three-wide sets to exploit No. 3 CB Lito Sheppard, who played the left side for the only 17 snaps (27.4%) the Vikings spent in nickel. That was enough time for him to be in coverage on all three of the Cowboys' touchdowns, although he should have had help from Greenway or FS Madieu Williams on WR Roy Williams' 15-yard score. Sheppard had poor leverage on Williams' 2-yarder and probably erred by trying to catch the ball Bryant hauled in for a 31-yard TD, rather than just batting it away. Madieu Williams seems to be gaining confidence firing to the line of scrimmage against the run. He got in on five tackles (four solo). SS Husain Abdullah had three solo tackles in 17 snaps before leaving with a concussion. The Cowboys could have attacked replacement SS Jamarca Sanford (45) more, too, but he didn't show up in the passing game until he dumped Witten after a 5-yard gain on the game's penultimate series.
Harvin took a kickoff that hung 4.0 seconds outside the hashes, slipped Sensabaugh at the 25, made CB Orlando Scandrick miss at the 35 and was gone for a touchdown that might have changed the Vikings' season. It rescued them in this game for sure. Camarillo isn't a big-play threat on punts, but he knows how to squeeze something out of his chances, averaging 6.0 yards on four returns. P Chris Kluwe grossed 42.4, netted 41.8, averaged 4.32 seconds of hang time and pinned the Cowboys with four of five boots inside the 20 -- none better than a 53-yarder with 4.8 hang that spun back from the Dallas 1. Lewis downed it at the 4, the Cowboys couldn't move on their next possession, and the ensuing punt gave the Vikings a short field for their second touchdown drive. PK Ryan Longwell is so smooth on field goals -- his 38-yarder from the right hash was down the middle and made him 4-for-4 this season. Four of five kickoffs failed to reach the 5-yard line, giving the Cowboys an average starting field position of the 24 even though they averaged only 16.2 per return. MLB Jasper Brinkley was dynamite with three special-teams tackles.