Gameday: Return Game Crucial For Cowboys & Vikings



Tony Romo's still in the top 10 in passing and top three in touchdowns and touchdown to interception ratio, but the offense has been out of whack the last few weeks. Romo sprinkled in a 317-yard passing performance against the Eagles between a 170-yard game against the Redskins and a 206-yard game against the Lions, but the Cowboys only scored 17 points in that Eagles game. Facing three of the statistically worst defense in the league the last three weeks, the offense hasn't done much.

With just one 100-yard rushing performance by a Cowboys running back, and none in the last five weeks, the offense has to rely on its passing game. And when the passing game stalls, the offense is in a lot of trouble. With Miles Austin still nursing his hamstring and DeMarco Murray nursing his knee, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams have been vital for the offense. But Beasley wasn't found in the Lions game and Williams only hauled in two of his 10 targets. Finding a way to get Dez Bryant and Jason Witten more involved could help them break out of their recent offensive skid.

The poor offensive showings the last three weeks have still resulted in a 2-1 record, thanks in large part to the defense against division foes. After holding the Redskins and Eagles to 16 and three points, respectively, the "no-name" defense continued its strong effort through three quarters against the Lions. Then came the fourth quarter, when Detroit put up 24 points. The Cowboys have made due with a ton of injuries along the defensive line, but it's hard to keep that going long-term.

Special teams seemed like it might be an issue in the preseason, but that's been far from the case since the real football began. Dan Bailey continues to be money not just from short-range, but from the 50-plus yard range as well, and Dwayne Harris continues to flash his skills as a returner. Harris is in the top three in the league in both punt and kick return average among players with at least 10 returns.


Even on down weeks for Romo, the Vikings would do a lot to get the likes of him at quarterback. Christian Ponder started the first three games, then he got hurt and in entered Matt Cassel, who made two starts before the Vikings signed Josh Freeman and started him immediately in a 23-7 loss to the Giants. Then back came Ponder, who passed for 145 yards in a loss to the Packers. In the end, the 1-6 Vikings are left looking for a lot of answered offensively, beginning with the quarterback spot. [embedded_ad]

One area they don't have to worry at all about is the guy running the football. Still, surprisingly, Peterson has just two 100-yard games this year as he battles through a hamstring injury. He's still a battering ram when he suits up, but he's had no more than 13 carries in any of the Vikings' last three games, which were all double-digit losses. It's difficult for them to continue feeding their star back when he's banged up and when the team is trailing early. Greg Jennings was supposed to provide a massive spark for the Vikings' offense, but he's only got 25 catches through seven games.

If history's any indication, the Vikings might be due for a win despite their rough start to the season. The Vikings dropped their first three games before beating the Steelers and have gone on to drop their next three. However, that lone win came a Pittsburgh team that was also winless at the time, and the Vikings have a minus-62 point differential this year, while the Cowboys are at plus-44. One of the worst parts for the Vikings is their typically vaunted defense is allowing a stunning 32.1 points per game.

The best part of the Vikings might be their special teams unit and the rookie returner making a name for himself around the league. First-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson isn't doing much through the air, but he's been a star in the return game and leads the league in kick return yardage (703), average (39.1) and touchdowns (2), and he has the longest return with a 109-yarder.

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