FOXSports.com writer Joel Beall examines five things to watch from the Dallas Cowboys in the FOX NFL Game of the Week.
By Joel BeallFoxSports
Despite a 4-4 record, the Cowboys sit atop the NFC East division. Dallas will be looking to widen its lead against a desperate Minnesota Vikings squad hoping to revitalize its season with a strong second half. This NFC battle serves as our FOX NFL Game of the Week.
The Dallas back enjoyed an auspicious start to 2013, averaging 79.8 rushing yards in his first five games. This production was especially solid given the feeble state of the Cowboys offensive line. Following a disappointing and injury-filled 2012, it appeared Murray was revitalized to the playmaker that burst onto the NFL scene from Oklahoma in 2011.
Alas, Murray fell victim to a knee ailment in Week 6, similar to the issues suffered last year, as well as an injury that riddled his college career. Out the past two weeks, Murray returns to a Dallas offense desperate for backfield love, as the Cowboys rank 27th in total rushing in the league. Unfortunately, Murray’s heath has the franchise wondering if it needs to invest elsewhere in the offseason to fortify its ground game. In essence, Murray’s future with the team is on the line in the second half. Facing a Minnesota defense that is relinquishing 32.1 points per game (third-highest in the NFL), Murray gets the perfect route to start his recovery in Week 9.
Matchup watch: Christian Ponder vs. Dallas secondary
Familiar with the irresistible force paradox? You know, “What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force?” Yeah, this matchup is the opposite of that.
Ponder’s troubles are well documented, yet with Josh Freeman dealing with a concussion and Matt Cassel struggling with, um, being Matt Cassel, Ponder will take the reins for Minnesota on Sunday. Across the line will be a Dallas defense surrendering the most pass yards (315.4) and total yards (422.5), one whose biggest star (DeMarcus Ware) will likely be on the sidelines.
As always, the Vikings will try to utilize Adrian Peterson as their offensive promoter, but Dallas will feature eight, possibly nine defenders in the box, daring Ponder to take aim. Whichever side blinks first will likely lose this contest.
Terrance Williams: Emerging Star
Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are the faces of the Dallas offense, yet it’s the production from the rookie out of Baylor that fueled this attack in October. In substitute of a hobbled Miles Austin, Williams finished the month with 14 receptions for 313 yards and four scores. Moreover, the 24-year-old has proven to be a more complete receiver than envisioned, with the ability to use his physical build to separate on short routes while utilizing a deceiving speed on the deep ball. Williams remains the third option in this offense, but with the Cowboys operating as a pass-happy scheme, Williams will get plenty of opportunities to inflict damage against the Vikings this weekend.
Regarding the Dez Bryant “Blow-Up” last week…
Hypocrisy is one of my pet peeves, right up there with marathoners who post “26.2” stickers on cars and media personalities laughing at unfunny jokes on pre-game sports shows. Yasiel Puig is chastised as a me-first player for showing emotion, yet when Matt Carpenter displays the same sentiment, it’s because he’s “gritty” and “passionate.” Not that I’m condemning someone like Carpenter celebrating, just that we’re becoming increasingly reliant on pre-existing stereotypes to label every action or deed.
Keeping that rant in mind, can’t say I’m down with the, “When Tom Brady yells at his teammates, he’s inspiring them, but when Bryant does it, he’s selfish,” discourse. You know what? Tom Brady CAN bark at his teammates without censure. Such clout is given to guys like Brady. Dude has five Super Bowl appearances. Dez has five babysitters keeping him out of trouble.
I’m not proclaiming that Bryant is a bad egg because of his reaction, yet he’s not totally blameless, either. Whoops, getting the “Joel, stay in your lane” signal, so back to our scheduled program…
The Cowboys win if…
Murray and Joseph Randle prove a viable complement to Romo, the Dallas D employs a bend-but-don’t-break approach on Peterson, Bryant doesn’t go ballistic and take Romo hostage on the sidelines…
The Vikings aren’t far off from respectability, but a turnaround won’t start this week. Expect Dallas to come out on top:
Prediction: Cowboys 34, Vikings 24
Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s currently broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @FOXSportsBeall.