EDEN PRAIRIE -- Cris Carter and Randy Moss present the classic pick-your-poison dilemma.
They combined for 2,654 yards receiving this season, the fourth-highest total by a tandem in NFL history, and caught 170 passes, 24 of them touchdowns.
''It's like asking which of your kids you love more,'' Dallas Cowboys coach Chan Gailey said. ''I don't have to pick which one of my sons I love the most.''
Cowboys safety George Teague said there are no easy answers for the Cowboys (8-8) when they visit the Minnesota Vikings (10-6) Sunday.
''One of the guys will beat you deep and quick and fast, or take the other guy and die slowly,'' he said.
Safety Darren Woodson said blitzing isn't the answer, either.
''You have to take your chances. I know teams that really get after them take chances every once in a while and put pressure on Jeff George. But sometimes you get burned by that pressure,'' Woodson said.
Because nobody is better at exploiting 1-on-1 matchups than Moss, and nobody is better at third-down underneath routes than Carter.
The Cowboys have more to worry about than just Moss and Carter, too.
''It's hard to double-team Randy Moss and Cris Carter when you have a healthy Robert Smith because he can take it the distance,'' Woodson said.
Smith didn't play the last time these teams met, on Nov. 8, because he was out after undergoing a double hernia operation. He still topped 1,000 yards rushing for the third straight year despite missing four games.
Without a healthy Deion Sanders to cover Moss or Carter, the Vikings have had no problem torching the Cowboys' secondary in their last two meetings.
Sanders hopes things will be different Sunday now that he's healthy.
''But even if you had Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes, I don't know if you'd have enough talent to match up with those guys,'' Sanders said.
Moss caught three touchdown passes totaling 163 yards and Carter had seven catches for 135 yards as Minnesota beat Dallas 46-36 on Thanksgiving 1998. Sanders missed that game with a toe injury.
In November, the NFL's most productive tandem combined for 15 catches, three touchdowns and 207 yards as the Vikings scored the final 27 points after falling behind 17-0. Sanders, the NFL's best cover cornerback, limped through the game with hamstring and groin problems.
While fans would love to see Sanders and Moss go head-to-head on every snap, Dallas coaches will mix up their coverages to avoid being predictable.
''I think we're talking about something that's on everybody's wish list but doesn't really happen,'' Gailey said of the Sanders-Moss matchup. ''I know if I was just a fan out there watching the game, that's one you'd like to see.
''That's one of those situations if it happens during the course of the game, you'll enjoy watching it. If it doesn't happen, then it'll be one of those things we'd wish we would have seen.''
Of the 15 times Sanders lined up against Moss two months ago, Jeff George went that way only twice. The matchup was a draw as Sanders knocked down a long pass and Moss had an 8-yard catch.
''Deion's unbelievable,'' George said. ''When he's not healthy, he's unbelievable. Just his presence on the field is unbelievable.
''But that doesn't mean you shy away from the guy. We have every bit of confidence in our receivers and our running game.''
The Cowboys with they could say the same about their banged-up secondary.
''Kevin Mathis looks to be a little closer than Kevin Smith at this point,'' Gailey said after both cornerbacks practiced Friday. ''But we'll wait until game day to make a decision on both guys.''
Smith has missed the last two games with a strained right hamstring. Mathis has been out three weeks with a sprained left knee.
Smith would be the first option to start at left cornerback, then Mathis. If neither is available, Charlie Williams would start for the third straight week.
So, what's the answer to containing Moss and Carter?
''I wish our offense would let that clock tick down to the last second before we snap every ball,'' Sanders said, ''because the more you keep those guys off the field, the less opportunities they have.''
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