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Cowboys concerns on special teams (Part I): Brett Maher a bit shaky for team that needs a reliable leg

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The Cowboys should be concerned somewhat about their special teams unit, starting with the kicker.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Special teams is often forgotten and is only brought up when it becomes a concern for a football team. After last season, the Cowboys should be moderately concerned about their special teams unit.

For the longest time, the Cowboys had one of the most reliable kicking games in the NFL. Dan Bailey was typically battling it out with Justin Tucker for the top spot at kicker. L.P. Ladouceur is still one of the best longsnappers in the league as he enters his 15th season. Chris Jones has emerged as a quality punter and even if he doesn’t get all he wants out of a punt, he’s known to dish out his own punishment.

Dan Bailey was the roster cut heard around the NFL last offseason as he became a liability for the Cowboys late in 2017 and was starting to stack up the injuries. In his place the Cowboys added Brett Maher, a 28-year-old kicker that bounced around offseason squads and the CFL before getting the gig in Dallas. When Maher drilled a 57-yarder in a preseason tilt with the Texans, he solidified his roster spot. While Maher missed his first attempt, he then became red-hot, making 15 field goals in a row including a game-winner versus the Lions. All the while, Dan Bailey couldn’t get above 75% last season.

Though Maher was on a roll, in games 7- Maher fell back to earth and was a 50% kicker as the Cowboys dropped two of the three games. In Maher’s defense, he would only miss four more attempts in the next nine games but he was not the confident kicker he once was after week six. There are also several instances where Maher made you nervous even if he was able to sneak one in.

Brett Maher’s calling card is distance, he was good on six of seven attempts of 50+ yards or more. Maher’s long distance delights included a 62-yarder in their 29-23 week 14 win over the Eagles and a 59-yard score in a win over the Buccaneers two weeks later. Though Maher’s performance was strong enough to rank sixth in the league on extra points, his 80.6% on field goals is only 25th:

Kicking FG ATT. (RK) FG MADE (RK) FG% (RK) XP% (RK)
Brett Maher 36 (T-4th) 29 (6th) 80.6% (25th) 97% (6th)

Maher’s concerns come in an area where he really cannot afford to be inaccurate, two of six misses were less than 40-yards, and four misses were in between 40-49 yards.

ATT/MADE 20-29 YDs 30-39 YDs 40-49 YDs 50-59 YDs
Brett Maher 10-10 8-6 11-7 7-6
FG% 100% 75% 64% 86%
NFL Avg. 99% 90% 76% 64%

Brett Maher was a 75% kicker in the 30-39 yard range, when the NFL was making 90% of those kicks. Even though the league was 76% in the 40-49 yard range, Maher was significantly worse at 64%. It’s fantastic to make six of seven 50+ yard field goals but you’re not going to get too many of those opportunities. It’s much more important to be consistent in the 30-49 yard range because that’s where the kicking attempts are largely coming from.

The Cowboys offense bucks the NFL’s trend of being a passing league with their dominant rushing attack. Last year, the Cowboys were fourth in field goal attempts among the 12 playoff teams but they were 11th in field goal percentage. The way the Cowboys win football games is by controlling the clock, pace, and ultimately the football. Out of the 12 playoff teams, the Cowboys were dead last in total touchdowns scored with only 36. Though they got exponentially better when Amari Cooper was brought in, the Cowboys were still a mess in the red zone. The importance of having a reliable kicker is pretty big for the Cowboys based on the style of football they play. Maher is going to be one of the most-watched players of training camp.