As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s game with the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, we asked Jean-Jacques Taylor, who works for ESPNDallas.com and spent 11 seasons covering the Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006, five questions on the matchup. Here’s what he had to say…
Q: You were in Detroit on Sunday when the Cowboys lost to the Lions despite having a plus-four turnover differential … what caused the Cowboys’ collapse Sunday?
Taylor: Basically they couldn’t run the ball to close the game down at the end. They had the ball twice with three minutes and couldn’t run it out and put up enough time. The whole game changed when they had the holding call on third down when they tried to run out the clock (before Dan Bailey’s 44-yard field goal to give the Cowboys a 30-24 lead with 1:02 left). That’s because you had a young guy (running back Phillip Tanner) who was supposed to go up the middle and take whatever was there and fall down. He bounced it outside, got a holding call that stopped the clock. Without the holding call, Detroit gets the ball down six at their 20 with about 30 seconds left, and they’re going 80 yards in 30 seconds.
Q: Running back DeMarco Murray has practiced the past two weeks. Will he play Sunday?
Taylor: It’s too early to say. I would expect him to, but he only thought he was going to play last week and he didn’t. (Murray sprained his MCL in his left knee against the Redskins on Oct. 13 and did not play against the Lions).
Q: Is Murray’s absence the biggest issue with the run game?
Taylor: They’re just not a good running team. They haven’t been a good running team all year. It’s not surprising that they couldn’t close it out. They’re not a team that runs the ball very much, they’re not a team that runs it well. Since Murray’s been out, they’ve had two runs of 10 yards or more in 48 carries. Murray has 11 in 91 (carries) by himself. He makes a difference, but they’re not a good running team however you slice it or dice it.
Q: The Cowboys are pretty thin on the defensive line. How have they held up against the run and bring pressure?
Taylor: They’re an awful defense, and we all know this so it’s not a big deal. They’re an awful defense because the injuries have compromised them. All they can give you are turnovers and red zone defense. When you’re looking at the Cowboys defense, you have to ignore the yards because they’re going to give up a ton of yards. But they got 19 turnovers, they only had 16 all of last year. When they can hold you to field goals inside the red zone, they’ve done their job. They play really hard, and they’ll play as hard as anyone in the league. That compensates for some of their flaws. And against a bad offense like Minnesota, they’ll have some success because they’ll out-effort the Vikings. But when they play a good team, and a good offense and a good quarterback, they’re at that team’s mercy. But luckily for them, Minnesota’s got a bad quarterback and a bad offense. So they’ll probably do a good job this week.
Q: Aren’t turnovers and a “bend, but don’t break” defense what head coach Jason Garrett wanted?
Taylor: Nobody wants to be the first team in the NFL to give up four 400-yard passers, and nobody wants to be on pace to give up 6,000 yards. But injuries have compromised them. It’s not an excuse, it’s just what it is. When you’ve got your two starting players with the game on the line last week on the final drive were a couple of undrafted free agents -- one from Grand Valley State (defensive back Brandon Carr) and one from South Carolina State (defensive back Jakar Hamilton) -- I don’t think that was the plan going into the season.
Taylor’s prediction: Cowboys 23, Vikings 13