The Dallas Cowboys were terrible on special teams last year. The net gain in field position was noticeably hindering the team’s chances to win football games. The team made a change as they replaced Keith O’Quinn with long-time Los Angeles Rams special teams coach John “Bones” Fassel. While things were so bad for Dallas last season that it seemed like the only place to go from there was up, it’s starting to look as if that is not necessarily the case. This unit has done some things this season that have been very costly.
As we try to unwrap all of what’s gone down, we decided to peruse through all the game tape and revisit the special team plays that made the biggest impact this year. Some of it’s good, some of it is not so good, and some of it is downright awful. We’ll let you be the judge. Let’s kick things off on a positive note.
The small amount of success this group has seen has come in the return game. These plays feature the one time Tony Pollard got loose on a kickoff and returned it into Washington territory. You also had rookie backup running back Rico Dowdle who did a great job on a return after the Steelers kicked the ball off at midfield because of a Randy Gregory roughing the passer penalty on Pittsburgh’s scoring play.
And speaking of the Steelers, one of the Cowboys best special team plays of the year occurred on a well-designed lateral on a punt return. Even though C.J. Goodwin bobbled Cedrick Wilson’s backward pass, Goodwin was still able to scamper down the sideline for a big gain. It would’ve been even better if Goodwin could have got all the way into the end zone, however, it wouldn’t have counted anyways as Darian Thompson got called for an illegal block in the back. In true Cowboys fashion, they went from having a touchdown-scoring opportunity to having to settle for a field goal.
We must also acknowledge Tyrone Crawford for bursting through the gap in the offensive line to block an extra point. The special teams unit has blocked a few extra points this season, but that was the only play that counted where they didn’t jump offsides. And finally, let’s not forget how the Cowboys stole a game in Atlanta with that infamous watermelon kick.
While there have been a few big plays in the return game, it’s still an area this team struggles with. Most teams don’t run kicks out deep in the end zone, but the Cowboys must think that Pollard is Cordarrelle Patterson as he has been given the great light at times. We might be able to get behind the aggressiveness of such a decision as they’ll never have a big return by settling for a touchback, but the team’s execution on these plays has not been good. Again and again, there are free defenders getting a clean shot at Pollard. It’s a potpourri of mishaps as sometimes the blocking scheme fails to account for a defender, where other times is just a whiff on a block. Whatever the root cause, this unit is bad at executing kickoff returns, but that doesn’t seem to deter them from trying.
And we’ve reached a point where it’s fair to ask if Pollard is really the right guy for the job. He made some really bad decisions last year, and that hasn’t gone away this season. He even misjudged the location of the ball against Cleveland that was almost disastrous.
The Cowboys have also had two extra points blocked because they have failed to account for an overloaded side of defenders. In both instances, a rusher from the left side had a free shot at blocking the kick. A missed assignment happens, but seeing these same things continue to happen is not good.
The almost UGLY
Before we get to the cringeworthy section of this article, it’s important to bring up a couple plays that, while didn’t actually end up hurting the Cowboys, showed a breakdown on special teams. Twice so far this season, the unit has been caught off guard to where their opponents appeared to have executed a nice fake, only to have it called back from an illegal shift penalty. These penalties did not impact the play and the Cowboys are very fortunate to catch a break.
It’s fair to say that the Cowboys are not good at executing fake punts. They’ve tried it three different ways, and each time it has warranted a face palm. To be fair though, a couple of these had a chance. Had punter Chris Jones thrown a better pass to C.J. Goodwin against Atlanta, it would’ve resulted in a first down. And had Cedrick Wilson just thrown a pass to Goodwin against Washington on Thursday, that had a shot to be a touchdown and completely change the dynamic of that game.
If “Bones” is going to pull the trigger on a fake, he has to be a little extra creative because it’s safe to say the book is out on him as teams are just sitting back daring the Cowboys to get fancy.
Regina George has a message for Mike McCarthy and John Fassel. pic.twitter.com/FXhvNpJYsj— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) November 27, 2020
In this final video, you’ll see all those failed fake punts as well as the obligatory Pollard return gaffe, with this one being the most costly. And finally, the Cowboys are the only team in the league that can block an extra point, kick it around a bit, and have it end up being turned into two points for their opponents. Classic Dallas.