Expectations were high for the Dallas Cowboys in 2019 following the team’s NFC East title and playoff appearance in 2018. America’s Team started the season fast with a 3-0 record before stumbling down the stretch to an 8-8 record, which resulted in the team relieving head coach Jason Garrett of his duties after a decade in Big D. While there’s plenty of blame to go around for the disappointing season, the Dallas Cowboys special teams was the main problem area and new head coach Mike McCarthy plans on addressing the unit in 2020.
Dallas Cowboys numbers don’t lie
In 2019, the special teams numbers for the Cowboys were abysmal. For starters, kicker Brett Maher epitomized the inconsistency of the Dallas Cowboys special teams play for the season by kicking an NFL season-best 63-yard field goal against the Philadelphia Eagles in October but then missing a league-leading 10 field goals. The club released Maher in December.
The team ranked dead last at 32nd in average yards per kick return (16.3), tied for last in number of kick returns over 20 yards (10), and ranked 26th in average yard per punt return at 5.7 yards. The longest punt return for the entire season was unbelievably a meager 15 yards.
Unfortunately, those are just the numbers on the receiving end of special teams. On the other side, Dallas was just as inept finishing last in punting at 41.2 yards and net punting at 37.2 yards.
Dallas Cowboys special teams stats vs. NFL
When you compare the Cowboys’ numbers with the best in the league, the difference is stark. The Chicago Bears ranked first in kick returns at 26.6 yards while the Indianapolis Colts topped the league on punt returns averaging 17.4 yards. The Colts average punt return was longer than any Cowboys return all season. On punts, the Washington Redskins led at 49.2 yards, and on net punting, the Jacksonville Jaguars topped the category at 44.4 yards.
In the kicking category, Harrison Butker of the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs led the league converting on 34 of 38 field goal attempts and finishing with 147 points. Saints kicker Will Lutz finished right behind, converting 32 of 36 for 144 points.
How will Cowboys improve in 2020?
The Cowboys clearly recognized there were serious problems with their special teams during the 2019 campaign, as evidenced by the release of Maher before the season ended. The team brought in Kai Forbath as a replacement and, in the team’s final four games, he made all 11 field goals attempted.
Despite Forbath’s late-season success, he’s not guaranteed the job in 2020 as McCarthy has already brought in Tristan Vizcaino to compete with the veteran kicker. That type of move indicates McCarthy’s willingness to make the necessary changes within the organization to put a more successful product on the field.
Another move McCarthy has made since taking the job for the Dallas Cowboys and one he hopes will specifically translate into an improved special teams unit is the recent hiring of John Fassel from the Los Angeles Rams.
Fassel has been with the Rams since 2012 when they were in St. Louis. The current Cowboys’ situation is quite similar to what he inherited back in 2012. Two years after his hiring with the Rams the special teams unit saw a marked improvement going from 20th in the league in average yardage gained per kick return to No. 1 in that category, first in punts returned for touchdowns (2) and tied for second in average yardage gained per punt.
Whether the Cowboys improve their overall record as a team in 2020 is yet to be seen. One thing, however, is certain—Dallas Cowboys special teams play will be better in 2020 because statistically, it couldn’t get any worse.