It has been an off-season of positives for the Dallas Cowboys as they prepare for the 2019 campaign. While a lot of people are excited about the new direction of the offense and some of the upgrades on defense, the special teams really hasn’t gotten much attention. With how poorly the overall unit played last season, this needs to be a unit that steps up their game in 2019.
One of the biggest reasons why the special teams struggled was the addition of a new kicker, Brett Maher. While initially thought to have been brought as a camp body, Maher quickly made it a competition and eventually beat out Pro-Bowl kicker Dan Bailey for the job in 2018. Fans and media members had mixed reactions because the undrafted kicked hadn’t played in the NFL before and was a average kicker in the Canadian Football League.
Maher’s 2018 season wasn’t the disaster many thought it would be, but it wasn’t perfect either. Maher’s biggest strength was his incredible kicking power, which enabled him to hit very long field goals that were much harder for the average kicker.
Maher sit a franchise record by hitting a 62-yarder against the Eagles and went 6-for-7 on field goals more than 50 yards. Yet, when it came to kicks from 30-49 yards, he was mortal, going 13-for-19. For the season, Maher ranked 25th in the league, with a 80.6 season field goal percentage.
He was ok but it wasn’t enough to give confidence going into this season. Should the Cowboys try to bring in another young player to challenge Maher? Maybe bring in a veteran like Matt Bryant? Bryant was the third-best kicker in 2018 according to field-goal percentage.
Or maybe the Cowboys stick to Maher and see if he can improve in his second-year? They need to make sure, because it is never good to go in to a season with a kicker not playing to his full confidence. It could come back to bite you down the stretch.
Another issue is the lack of success with the various special teams units, including punt and kick returns. From the missed tackles to horrible blocking, the special teams needs to get better quick.
One thing that has been a thorn in the side is the return game. The last time the Cowboys had an effective returner was when Dwayne Harris was here. Since then the team has struggled to find a replacement, but could have the answer on the roster now.
First, you have receiver Tavon Austin who has been an effective return man in his career. Unfortunately, Austin was injured for most of the year and never got a chance to show his return skills. Now with Cole Beasley in Buffalo, Austin has a chance to show if he can contribute as a returner.
Another candidate is Tony Pollard, the rookie running back out of University of Memphis. He made a name for himself as a speedy back and a dangerous return man in college. He tied the NCAA record for 7 return touchdowns in his career. Pollard mainly showed off his action as a kick returner, which could be a problem since the NFL has all but eliminated that part of the game. Though with his speed,he can fit in anywhere, including as a fellow punt returner Austin.
The Cowboys seem set, but a few tweaks here or there on special teams could make the difference between contending or not. A great return man means that exciting extra touchdown that you get in a tight playoff game. A huge blocked punt or field goal gives you the ball with less than a minute down by 2. A great kicker gives you opportunity for the win in the Super Bowl in a tied game.
These are just some of the reasons special teams matter in football, despite what others thing. That goes for the Cowboys as well. They better hope their unit is special enough to help them get over the hump in 2019.
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