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TO BEAT VIKINGS, RUN THE BALL HARD

The blueprint has been out in the open for several weeks, a plan on how to beat the Vikings.

It was created by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their 27-24 victory over the Vikings on Nov. 1. The Buccaneers ran the ball, controlled the clock and kept the Vikings' offense off the field with their power running game, alternating two running backs with different styles.

It's something the Dallas Cowboys will try to emulate today (4 p.m., Ch. 29) in Texas Stadium.

"If I had to chose my ideal game, I think that would be it, to be able to pound the ball, control the clock and keep Minnesota's offense on the sideline," allas coach Chan Gailey said. "That would be ideal."

The Buccaneers pounded the ball against the Vikings, rushing for 246 yards. Mike Alstott, who was a battering ram in a former life, rushed for 128 yards. And the Buccaneers kept the Vikings off balance with Warrick Dunn, a quick, elusive back who gained 115 yards.

Strangely enough, the Cowboys have a similar, two-pronged attack with Emmitt Smith and Chris Warren.

Smith, who could find a crack in a cement wall, has rushed for 1,063 yards and eight touchdowns. He is listed as questionable with an ankle injury but is expected to play today.

"Emmitt Smith doesn't need a hole," Vikings nose tackle Jerry Ball said. "Emmitt Smith hits creases. We were looking at film today. There was a guy in the whole, and he still got in it and out of it. It was a crease, it wasn't a hole. It's very important that we limit the creases and the holes at the same time."

Warren is a powerful runner, but he is more explosive than Alstott. He can catch the ball or run it out of the backfield. He is averaging 4.8 yards a carry and has scored four touchdowns. He has the Cowboys' longest run this season, a 49-yarder.

The Cowboys use Smith and Warren in their base offense.

Warren plays more when the Cowboys go into a one-back set with three or four wide receivers. He has caught 12 passes for 61 yards, including a touchdown.

"Tampa Bay was successful (against the Vikings)," Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman said. "They were able to have some success running the ball. They made some plays in the passing game. If you are able to do that and keep Minnesota's offense off the field, you have a chance."

But Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson believes what happened against the Buccaneers was more of a problem with tackling.

"If you look at the Tampa Bay game, part of our problem was that we didn't tackle very well," he said. "It wasn't that those guys were running through holes and not getting touched for seven or eight yards. Alstott was hit at the line of scrimmage and ran through some tackles. Dunn made some guys miss him at the line of scrimmage."

The Vikings are ranked 18th in the NFL against the run.

The Cowboys have a big, powerful offensive line, anchored on the left side with tackle Larry Allen and guard Nate Newton. Allen has been named to the Pro Bowl for two consecutive seasons and has a six-year contract worth $24 million.

Aikman has thrown nine touchdown passes and three interceptions. He has a 99.6 quarterback rating, which is slightly higher than his career best for a season (99.0 in 1993).

Aikman has been efficient because he has time to pass. He has thrown just one interception in his past 127 passes, and he has been sacked just once in the past 14 quarters.

"Right now, our offensive line is playing very well," Aikman said.

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