ReFo: Vikings @ Cowboys, Week 9
Given slim to no chance heading into the game the Minnesota Vikings looked as though they had rekindled some of that 2012 magic for much of the game. That was until the last three drives. A three-and-out from the Dallas 41 with under five minutes was followed by one of the easiest 90-yard game-winning drives you’ll see all year and it was clear the magic had run out.
Tony Romo (+3.6) wasn’t perfect by any means, but he overcame some crucial drops and showed poise under pressure that many have questioned and got the win. He pretty much had to do it all himself, though, as they ran 57 drop-backs compared to just nine runs. The win takes Dallas to 5-4 and they maintain their division lead over Philadelphia.
Christian Ponder (-3.0) looked fine throwing the ball outside of his interception. His accuracy down the field is still a concern and his penchant for costly mistakes, like the end zone fumble, doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon. The loss drops Minnesota to 1-7, the third worst record in the NFL.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the individual performers who decided this one:
Minnesota — Three Performances of Note
Ground and Pound
It was quite the homecoming for Adrian Peterson. Cowboys Stadium is about a 126 mile drive from Palestine, Texas where the reigning MVP went to high school and Peterson decided to put on a show for his family and friends. The running back had his best game of the season breaking a ridiculous seven tackles and amassing 177 total yards. The most impressive part was how bottled up the Cowboys’ defense had him. Peterson routinely had to face a linebacker or a safety in the hole and if there wasn’t one there it was because there wasn’t a gap to fill. He got caught a couple of plays dancing in the backfield trying to make too much happen. The most notable example occurred with 4:11 remaining in the second quarter where he allowed a sealed out Drake Nevis to tackle him for no gain instead of take on Ernie Sims in the hole. More often than not, though, Peterson would make something out of nothing and his +3.2 grade exemplifies that.
Exposed in Coverage
This game was lost on defense for the Vikings with the three men in the middle. Marvin Mitchell (-2.5), Erin Henderson (-1.5), and Chad Greenway (-2.9) were all generally useless in coverage. Together they allowed 14-of-19 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. Greenway missed two tackles while Mitchell missed one, but it was Henderson who made the biggest mistake of the day. The middle linebacker completely abandoned deep middle responsibility on a run fake and allowed Jason Witten to run wide open down the middle of the field for a touchdown early in the third quarter.
Fusco Clears the Way
If the Vikings could have pulled it out in the end, the game ball for this one could very well have gone to Brandon Fusco (+4.2). The right guard has had an up-and-down season, but was absolutely dominant in this one. He didn’t allow a pressure despite having one of the game’s best, Jason Hatcher, line up over him at left defensive tackle 21 times. He also cleared some holes in the run game. The Vikings ran to his side of the center 14 out of 25 times and averaged 8.6 yards per carry on those runs. No block was bigger than the one he put on George Selvie, though. On AP’s touchdown run on 4th-and-1 with 5:49 left in the fourth, Fusco destroyed Selvie, clearing a huge hole inside and taking the Cowboys end to the ground.
Dallas — Three Performances of Note
Quite simply the Cowboys don’t win this game without the play of Sean Lee (+2.3) and Bruce Carter (+3.6). It felt like they were in every single hole all day long. They had to be, though, because the defensive line couldn’t seem to shed blocks. Lee was exceptional working off of fullback Jerome Felton and shutting down Peterson at the point of attack. The middle linebacker had an impressive six stops and a run defense grade of +3.4. Carter made a living getting to the point of attack before lineman had a chance to even lay hands on him. On multiple occasions he was just too quick for lineman responsible for sealing him out at the second level and he made three stops in just nine run snaps. One has to wonder if Carter should be seeing snaps in base defense after another poor game from Ernie Sims (-3.3).
Doug Free looked like the best right tackle in football through the first six weeks of the season. He hadn’t had a game graded below +2.0. The last three weeks he has reverted back to the old inconsistent tackle Cowboys fans knew all too well the last two seasons. On Sunday he was beaten repeatedly by Brian Robison, allowing nine total pressures, the most we’ve ever seen from him. Inside, outside, spin, bull, you name it, he was beaten by it. By the end of the game he finished with a grade of -3.7, his worst on the season.
Coming From Nowhere
If you were watching one of the Cowboy’s division rivals this preseason you may not have been surprised by what you saw on Sunday. Everette Brown played in 94 snaps with the Eagles this preseason and delivered the highest pass rushing grade of any edge rusher at +6.3. His four sacks, one hit, and five hurries in just 35 pass rushes surprisingly weren’t enough to earn him a spot on the Eagles, or any team for that matter. That is until he was signed by the Cowboys just last week. Brown, who hadn’t played in a game since 2011, dominated Matt Kalil. He recorded a sack, a hit, and four pressures as well as a forced fumble on the last drive that almost ended the game. He did all that in just 20 pass rushes. The Cowboys may have very well found the answer to what they were looking for since DeMarcus Ware went down
– Dez Bryant(-4.2) finished with the lowest grade in the game thanks to two huge drops and two penalties.
– The Vikings missed eight tackles in coverage while the Cowboys missed seven.
– Christian Ponder went 20-22 on throws inside 10 yards and just 5-13 on throws over 10 yards.
PFF Game Ball
If it weren’t for the missed tackles in coverage this would likely go to Sean Lee. With no negatives on the day though, this goes to Bruce Carter who was a game changer when he got on the field against both the run and pass.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner