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Cowboys Week: Special Teams

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The Vikings and Cowboys are fairly evenly matched when it comes to special teams, with the exception of one major category which I will address towards the end of this post.

When it comes to the return game the Cowboys are quite dangerous.  The biggest threat comes on punt returns (hopefully the Vikes won’t be punting much though) in the form of Patrick Crayton.  Crayton averages a whopping 12.1 yards per punt return and has brought two returns back for touchdowns.

On kickoffs, Felix Jones has only averaged 22.6 yards per attempt, but everyone is plenty aware that the potential is there for a guy with superb speed and excellent moves in the open field.  The Vikings will not be able to fall asleep on kick returns (hopefully the Vikes will be kicking off very often).

Like much of the team, the Vikings have been inconsistent on coverage plays in the latter part of the season.  Overall, the Vikings have allowed 7.9 yards per punt return and 22.6 yards per kick return.  Neither figure is too bad, but the Vikings have been susceptible to long returns and have given up a touchdown on one punt return this year.

The Vikings have some returning threats of their own, as we all know.  Darius Reynaud struggled with a case of the dropsies in the final game of the season, but otherwise has been very consistently solid (hopefully we see Reyanud get 5-10 returns this week).  He averages 10.3 yards per punt return and is getting closer and closer to breaking one off for a score.

On kick returns, rookie Percy Harvin earned himself a spot in the Pro Bowl (hopefully Percy won’t be returning too many punts in the Pro Bowl) with a stunning 27.5 yard average on kick returns, which included two scoring returns.  Many teams have opted to kick away from Harvin out fear that he’ll score on them.  Whether the Cowboys decide to kick it to him or not, it seems likely that the Vikings will get pretty good field position all game long.

The Cowboys have shown some weakness on punt coverage, as opponents have averaged 8.3 yards per return against them.  Like the Vikings, they have given up one punt return for a touchdown this season.  Reynaud may be able to find some cracks in this coverage unit.  The Cowboys are a lot more solid on kick coverage, however, as they have only allowed 20.6 yards per kick return this season.  Percy Harvin has the capabilities to change that, if they elect to kick it to him.

The Cowboys punter Mat McBriar is having somewhat of a better year than Vikings punter Chris Kluwe.  McBriar averages 1.2 yards more per punt than Kluwe, has forced 10 more fair catches than Kluwe, has put a third as many punts into the endzone for a touchback as Kluwe has, and pinned opponents inside the 20 yard line on 14 more occasions.  When it comes to punting, one can’t help but give the Cowboys the clear edge.

This game is expected by many to be a very close one, which means special teams successes and mistakes could be what makes or breaks a team’s efforts.  To me, no factor on special teams will be as important to this game as what each team gets from their kickers.

The Vikings have been pretty darn fortunate to have Ryan Longwell on their side this year.  Longwell has been money nearly all year long, really only faltering when there is a breakdown on the line to result in a blocked kick.  Longwell is perfect from beyond 50 yards, as well.  Needless-to-say, the Vikings are as confident in Longwell as a team that still remembers Gary Anderson can be.

The Cowboys, however, have had some unrest at the position that proves year in and year out to be one of the most important when the post-season rolls around.  Nick Folk was booted after he missed way too many field goals.  Then the Cowboys brought in Shaun Suisham, who was booted from the Redskins after he missed way too many field goals.  Hooray for them?  So far Suisham is 2 of 3 as a Cowboy, and his confidence has got to be rattled after recently being fired from one NFC East team.

Like I said at the top of this post, I think these two special teams are fairly evenly matched.  If the game is close, I would not be surprised to see the difference be a special teams play.  With the presence of Ryan Longwell, I give Minnesota a slight edge.

PLAYER TO WATCH:  Percy Harvin seems to have that “special something” that makes him a competitor and a winner.  Remember when he single-handedly brought us back into the Steelers game and set us up with the game winning chance?  Remember how well he did against Oklahoma in his final Florida game last season?  Something tells me that Harvin is going to show up big in this playoff run, starting with the first time the Cowboys make that fateful decision to kick the ball his way.

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One Response to “Cowboys Week: Special Teams”

  1. Trent Dilfer says:

    You forgot to mention David Buehler, The Cowboys kickoff specialist who lead the league in touchbacks and had four against the eagles not allowing any big returns.

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