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Greg Zeurlein is the new Cowboys kicker, but what happened to him last year?

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Greg the Leg stumbled a bit last year, but previous to that he was money.

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Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

One week ago, it seemed like a pretty good bet that Kai Forbath would be the Cowboys place kicker in 2020. He was perfect during his audition at the end of 2019 once Brett Maher was cut, and the Cowboys had gone ahead and re-signed him to a one-year deal. Good times for Forbath.

Then came yesterday when the Cowboys made a deal with former Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein. It’s tempting to say the Cowboys have set up a kicking competition, but a look at the contracts gives you a very good idea of where this is headed.

Zuerlein - three-year, $7.5 M contract including $2.25 M guaranteed
Forbath - one-year, $1.187 M contract including $137,500 guaranteed

Unless Zuerlein comes in and just totally blows up as a kicker, he’s going to win the job. Considering the amount of time he’s spent kicking with new Dallas special teams coordinator John Fassel, there’s not much mystery about where this is headed.

There is one mystery, though. And that’s what happened to Zuerlein last year? He had been one of the league’s best on a consistent basis, and especially from long range.

Greg the Leg is one of only seven players in the NFL to make at least 200 field goals since 2012 (when he was drafted), while also making the third-most of at least 50 yards (48) in that time. Where Legatron really endeared himself, though, was in his ability to crush especially deep kicks. Since 2012 he has made a league-best 13 field goals of at least 55 yards, with two of those coming from 60-plus.

Last year, it was more of a struggle.

2019 stats: 24-for-33 FGs (72.7%), 42-for-42 PATs

Analysis

Zuerlein was one of the best kickers in football in 2017 and 2018. He was even named a first-team All-Pro in 2017, making 38 of 40 field goal attempts and 44 of 46 PATs. His field goal percentage dropped to 87.1% in 2018, but he was still clutch for the Rams and helped land them in the Super Bowl with game-tying and game-winning kicks in the NFC championship game.

For whatever reason, Zuerlein’s accuracy fell off in 2019. He was returning from a foot injury that he suffered in the playoffs and he had a minor quad injury late in the 2019 season, but those are unlikely to have affected his performance.

There has been a lot of speculation about injury, but that quad injury came at the end of the year in Week 15, coincidentally against the Cowboys. For whatever reason, Zuerlein struggled some in 2019, and struggled in a way that is reminiscent of Brett Maher. Both kicker have big legs and can connect from 60+ yards, but it was in the key 40-49 yard range that let Zuerlein down, similar to Maher.

Zuerlein struggled from 40 to 49 yards in 2019. He made just five of eleven attempts from that range. Zuerlein missed one from less than 39 yards and two from over 50 yards. Call him money in those zones.

So short and long were good in 2019, but that key area was a disappointment. Previous to 2019, Zuerlein had hit on 83.7% of kicks in that range. His whole career before last year was money. He also nailed the extra points.

Accuracy is a key attribute for kickers, especially if they want to keep their jobs. He was a perfect 42 of 42 on extra-point attempts. It was the fourth time that he was perfect on extra points in his career.

Whatever happened last year, John Fassel must think it’s easily correctable. If so, Zuerlein is exactly the weapon the Cowboys need on special teams. Accurate with a big leg.