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On the surface it looked as if Minnesota simply overpowered Dallas last Sunday in winning the National Football Conference title 27-10. But in a sense this impression was as false as the Tartan Turf that carpets Dallas' plush, sun-roofed stadium.
The game was won by subtle changes in attack by the Vikings and lost by the inability of the Cowboy defense to recognize them and adjust. Things were so bad that the Dallas coaches on the sideline and their confreres in the press box spent the first half fruitlessly arguing about what was happening on the field. Alas, in the second half, when the defense got with it and began to shut off the Vikings and force turnovers, the hospitable Cowboy offense kept giving the ball right back to Minnesota.
"We knew exactly what we had to do," said Viking Guard Ed White. "The Cowboys play a reading defense and protect Lee Roy Jordan, their middle linebacker, so that he can make the stop after the line has read the play. We worked out ways to get to Jordan and we had him moving the wrong way by misdirection."
Throughout the season, when Minnesota's left guard pulled, the running back on the left side of the set got the ball; on Sunday, Quarterback Fran Tarkenton (see cover), who called a brilliant, daring game, handed off to the other back, who carried in the opposite direction from which the guard pulled.
"I took myself out of the play during the first half," Jordan said ruefully. "They were pulling people the wrong way. The coaches in the press box and on the sideline couldn't agree on who was pulling where. Then by the half we were behind 17-0."
It was pointed out that Dallas was only behind 10-0 at halftime. "It felt like 17-0," Jordan muttered. "Anyway, I got too conservative. I should have audibled and changed up the defense. In the second half, when we were getting the ball in close on turnovers, the offense winds up back on the 50-yard line."
The deficiency in the Cowboy defense was most evident in the first half, in which the Cowboy offense had the ball only three times. The Vikings mounted two long drives during which they established a pattern Dallas had difficulty picking up. On first down, more often than not, Tarkenton passed. On second and long he handed off to Chuck Foreman or Oscar Reed, who ran surprisingly well. All told, the Vikings rushed for 203 yards, the Cowboys for only 90.
"I didn't realize that Fran was passing so much on first down," Minnesota Coach Bud Grant said. "It wasn't part of our game plan."
"We passed on first down because the Cowboys are almost always in their flex defense then," said White. "With two linemen playing back off the line of scrimmage, they can't get a good pass rush. Then, when they went into a pass defense on second down, we ran."
The run was successful because the Vikings had another tactic to nullify Jordan. "We had nearly everyone on the line taking him at one time or another," said Center Mick Tingelhoff, who normally would have had most of the responsibility for blocking Jordan. "Sometimes one of the guards would block him, then a tackle and even the tight end came down after him. We knew we had to take him out of the game, and I guess we did."