Vikes to play NFL’s worst pass defense

Published 11:23 am Saturday, November 2, 2013

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Crazy as it seems, the Dallas Cowboys might actually be happy to see Adrian Peterson on Sunday.

At least Minnesota’s two-time rushing champion isn’t a quarterback.

The Cowboys slowed Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy, this year’s rushing leader, in their best defensive game of the season two weeks ago. They followed that win by allowing their fourth 400-yard passer of the season — an NFL first — and 329 yards receiving to Calvin Johnson in a loss to Detroit.

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So the best news for Dallas (4-4) is that the Vikings have issues over who will hand off to Peterson when the East Texas kid raised on the Cowboys makes his first visit to their $1.2 billion stadium.

Christian Ponder is the benched starter who failed to seize on another chance at the job after Tampa Bay castoff Josh Freeman ended up with a concussion from a start against the New York Giants just two weeks after signing with the Vikings.

Coach Leslie Frazier wasn’t planning to start Matt Cassel, the only quarterback to win a game for the Vikings (1-6) this year.

Sure, Frazier sees the weakness of a Dallas defense that’s the worst in the league against the pass and on pace to obliterate the 30-year-old franchise record of 3,928 yards allowed. But he’s not really tempted to exploit it.

“I don’t think you can get away from what you do best,” he said. “Everything starts with our being able to run the ball and get Adrian on track, and everything else comes off that.”

The Cowboys held McCoy to 55 yards in a 17-3 win over the Eagles, but the Lions’ Reggie Bush had 92 yards even though the Cowboys tried to focus on him as much as they did on Johnson. Dallas gave up a franchise-record 623 yards and lost despite getting four takeaways with a turnover-free offense.

“We’re getting turnovers, we’re doing what we’re supposed to do,” said Dallas defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, the team’s sacks leader with seven. “It will all fall in place. It will work itself out.”

Five things to consider as the Vikings try to beat the Cowboys for the eighth time in nine games dating to 1998:

DEPLETED SECONDARIES: The Vikings could be missing three starters in their secondary against Tony Romo and the league’s eighth-best passing attack. Safety Harrison Smith (toe) is out until at least mid-December, and safety Jamarca Sanford and cornerback Chris Cook could join him on the sidelines.

For the Cowboys, cornerback Morris Claiborne is likely to miss two games with a hamstring issue, and safety Barry Church is trying to stay in the lineup despite the same problem. Rookie safety J.J. Wilcox will probably miss at least one game with a knee sprain. Church’s absence put Jakar Hamilton in the game late against the Lions just a day after coming up from the practice squad.

DON’T CHANGE THE CHANNEL: It will be risky to miss a kickoff because something special might happen with the NFL’s top two returners statistically squaring off. Minnesota rookie Cordarrelle Patterson is the leader at 39.1 yards per return with two touchdowns, from 105 and a league-record 109 yards. Dwayne Harris has a 35.7-yard average, and although he hasn’t scored, he took one back 90 yards to set up a touchdown against Washington. He also had an 86-yard punt return for a score in that game.

‘OTHER’ OU RUNNING BACK: DeMarco Murray, who took a redshirt year during Peterson’s final season at Oklahoma, could return for the Cowboys after missing two games with a ligament sprain in his left knee. Once again, the Dallas running game has struggled without him. Joseph Randle had a decent day with 65 yards in the win over Philadelphia, but has been held to less than 2 yards per carry in two other games. The Cowboys had just 62 yards on 26 carries against the Lions.

NO MORE TRADE TALK: Defensive end Jared Allen can focus entirely on football again after he was the subject of trade rumors before the deadline passed without a move. Allen and Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware have the most sacks in the league since 2004, the year Allen entered the league. Ware was a rookie in 2005. Allen has 121 1-2 sacks to 115 for Ware, who missed the past two games — the first of his nine-year career — with a right quadriceps injury. He probably will be a game-time decision.

DEZ DRAMA: Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant was last seen in a shouting match with tight end Jason Witten at the end of the crushing loss to Detroit. Audio released by the NFL showing an animated exchange with Romo from earlier in the game proved Bryant’s contention that he just trying to pump up his team. So the focus goes back to football, and Bryant has been pretty good. He’s tied for the NFC lead with eight touchdowns through the air.