Cow­boys’ line is a load of trou­ble for Min­nesota

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Dave Camp­bell

min­neapo­lis» The fuel for this daz­zling sea­son for the Dal­las Cow­boys can be found up front, with an of­fen­sive line that has helped make this team a hand­ful to try to stop.

“They’re re­ally, re­ally good. They’re the best line I’ve seen in a long time in the NFL: phys­i­cal, ath­letic, big,” said the usu­ally un­der­stated Min­nesota Vik­ings coach Mike Zim­mer, who could be for­given if he sounded en­vi­ous of the group on the other side.

Just as the front five have made a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the suc­cess of the Cow­boys (10-1), the ever-im­por­tant po­si­tion has played a ma­jor hand in the re­cent slide by the Vik­ings (6-5).

With cen­ter Joe Berger ruled out of the game Thurs­day night be­cause of a con­cus­sion, the Vik­ings will use their sev­enth dif­fer­ent start­ing lineup com­bi­na­tion in 12 games this sea­son; Nick Eas­ton makes his first NFL start. That doesn’t in­clude oth­ers who’ve subbed in for in­jured team­mates on the fly.

“Once again we’ve got to re­work the line,” left guard Alex Boone said, “and fig­ure out what we can do best.”

The Vik­ings have strug­gled for the last three sea­sons to es­tab­lish a reli­able, sta­ble start­ing five. In­juries, par­tic­u­larly this year with three start­ing tack­les on in­jured re­serve, have rav­aged the po­si­tion. But they’ve only in­vested two picks in the first three rounds of the last 10 drafts in an of­fen­sive line­man, with right tackle Phil Load­holt (No. 54 over­all) in 2009 and left tackle Matt Kalil (No. 4 over­all) in 2012.

Load­holt re­tired be­fore train­ing camp be­cause of in­juries. Kalil had sea­son-end­ing hip surgery after play­ing in the first two games this sea­son.

The Cow­boys, by stark con­trast, have three first-round draft picks in their start­ing lineup: left tackle Ty­ron Smith, cen­ter Travis Fred­er­ick and right guard Zack Martin.

Zim­mer has emer­gency surgery.

The Vik­ings coach late Wed­nes­day had to get emer­gency eye surgery. This is about a month after he had an ini­tial pro­ce­dure to re­pair a torn retina. Vik­ings gen­eral man­ager Rick Spiel­man said Zim­mer was hav­ing the op­er­a­tion and un­cer­tain to re­cover in time for Thurs­day’s game. Spiel­man said he has met with coaches and play­ers to put a con­tin­gency plan in place.

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