When the Dallas Cowboys play the Minnesota Vikings tonight, there are a couple of prominent storylines everyone talks about. The Cowboys offense is much better than the Vikings offense, and the Vikings defense is superior to the Cowboys defense. But there is a third phase of football, and if the Cowboys aren’t careful, it could play a major role in the game. We’re talking about special teams.
The Vikings excel at scoring points or setting up field position with the kickoff and punt return units. The Vikings are one of five NFL teams with a touchdown on a kickoff return this season. They are second in the league in kickoff return average at 27.6 yards. The Cowboys are 20th in the league in kickoff coverage, allowing 23 yards per kickoff return. The Cowboys are tied for 16th in returns attempted at 20.
The Vikings are also one of six NFL teams with a punt return for a touchdown, and are tied for the lead with two on the year. They are seventh in the league averaging 11 yards per punt return. The Cowboys are 26th in the league allowing an average of 11.4 yards per punt return. The good news, though, is that Dallas is third in the league allowing only 13 actual punt returns on the season.
The Cowboys will be catching a break this week. Cornerback Marcus Sherels is usually the Vikings main punt returner, and he has two returns for touchdown on the year. He is dangerous, but he is ruled out for this game with a rib injury.
Sherels will be replaced as punt returner by either Diggs or Adam Thielen. While Sherels is averaging 13.4 yards on 17 returns, Diggs and Thielen are averaging just 5.4 on a combined nine.
That is a significant change for the Vikings punt returns. The Cowboys still need to be careful, and they need to watch out for Cordarrelle Patterson who returned a kickoff for a touchdown just last week.
The Cowboys should have Dan Bailey do his best to kick the ball through endzone on kickoffs, and they might want punter Chris Jones to aim for the sidelines. No need to take any chances this week.