The return to full speed of Fullback Bill Brown, who had a bad ankle, and the continuing improvement of Dave Os-born, his running mate, has hyped up the Minnesota ground game, and the experience Clinton Jones picked up substituting for Brown has made him a valuable replacement.
Too, the Viking offensive line has jelled and now offers Kapp better protection than heretofore. The Vikings should continue to mature and improve. When they reach their showdown with Los Angeles they will have much more than a wintry clime going for them.
Should Minnesota defeat the Rams on that occasion (a not unlikely occurrence, since the Rams have never been noted as a cold-weather club) the Vikings will have the same playing conditions in their favor on Jan. 4, when they would play cither Dallas or Cleveland for the NFL title. The Cowboys have played in sub-zero weather before and lost (to Green Bay) and, in January, Cleveland is only minimally warmer than Bloomington, Minn.
This Cowboy team is probably better than the one Green Bay defeated for the title in 1966 and 1967 and the club Cleveland beat in the conference playoff last year. Dallas was humiliated in the 42-10 debacle, but it reacted with angry determination in the face of unjustified criticism by some Dallas sports-writers, who took the single defeat—after six wins—as if Dallas had blown the season. One writer even suggested that Tex Schramm might consider replacing Landry, which is inconceivable. The writer's theory was that the Cowboys are no longer in the building process, and Landry should be able to arouse them for games like the one with Cleveland. On that theory Collier, after this week, and Minnesota Coach Bud Grant, after the season opener, would be in jeopardy, too, but most owners realize it simply isn't possible to be up every Sunday.
Against the New Orleans Saints last Sunday the Cowboys played fitfully, but picked themselves up in the fourth quarter after the Saints had tied the game 17-17, and demonstrated all of their very considerable skills in winning 33-17.
Their passing attack wasn't quite as polished as it should have been, but that was because Craig Morton, who has more than filled the low-cuts of the retired Don Meredith, was off on his timing. Morton, a big, rugged quarterback in the mold of a Roman Gabriel, is a powerful and accurate passer under normal circumstances, but for the last four weeks he has had a slight shoulder separation and has been unable to throw as much in practice as he should or put as much on the ball as usual.
On Wednesday and Thursday of last week he was throwing as hard as ever, but his lack of practice was evident, and in the early going against the Saints his shots strayed. Once he missed Lance Rentzel in an open field, and twice underthrown balls were intercepted. As the game wore on, Morton's accuracy improved and he threw to Mike Ditka for a big touchdown late in the game and hit Lance Rentzel on a long pass that set up another score.
But the major difference in this team from those of years past is the addition of Calvin Hill, the massive Yale running back, who is reminiscent of Jim Brown but may be faster. Hill got one touchdown on a 30-yard sweep on which he used great balance, splendid fakes and the power innate in his 6'3", 218-pound frame, breaking two tackles and teetering along the sideline to get the score. Later he broke three tackles on a 55-yard run to the Saints' 13-yard line, which set up the touchdown that put the Cowboys ahead to stay.
The addition of Hill provides Dallas with a solid running threat to the outside. After Hill's 55-yarder, Danny Reeves substituted for him and scored from the seven, an indication of the Cowboys' backfield depth. Reeves, of course, was the star runner (and option passer) of the 1967 team. He was injured in 1968 and, although he is healthy now, he can't dislodge Hill, who does everything Reeves did (Hill has completed all three of his passes, two for touchdowns) and is bigger and faster.
Bob Hayes has been slow regaining his timing and speed after missing four games with a shoulder separation, but he looked as good as ever against the Saints. His return makes Rentzel even more effective, since defenses can no longer double him on every play.