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When Greg Zuerlein misses it usually spells doom for the Cowboys, unfortunately he misses a lot

Greg Zuerlein is costing the Cowboys in big spots.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys have lost three games in their last four attempts. When you are on a losing streak like that, especially after experiencing high levels of success, you generally start to look inward in an attempt to figure out what has gone wrong. Unfortunately there are a lot of things to choose from for the Cowboys, but one of them is something that tends to stand out on its own when it isn’t working properly.

That is the name of the game when it comes to kickers and their particular job. When kickers are clutch they are celebrated for the impressive moment; however, when they come up small the whole world can see exactly how and where they failed.

In the aftermath of last week’s loss on Thanksgiving Day we had a conversation about Greg Zuerlein and how - to date - he is overall less accurate as a kicker for the Cowboys than Brett Maher was.

Upon further inspection things are a little more disconcerting than we even initially thought.

Greg Zuerlein’s misses are extremely costly for the Cowboys, more so than they even appear to be

To be clear, there are a lot of opportunities for the Cowboys to improve their football team. Nobody is trying to pick on Greg Zuerlein, but given that he plays a position responsible for scoring points his rate of success is one that has to be high.

When we broached the subject of Zuerlein not exactly performing how you want him to, a lot of responses from people focused on the fact that he is seemingly rather clutch. We ran the numbers and to a certain degree this is true.

Compiled by Aidan Davis.

As you can see, Greg Zuerlein has a 100% level of accuracy in the final two minutes of games and in overtime, much better than the NFL average. If the heat is on then Zuerlein is as automatic as they come.

Where the problem lies is earlier in games as he is actually below average in the first three quarters of a game. You might say that you would prefer a kicker like this - one who is seemingly more clutch when games are more tense - but the misses in the first three quarters take their toll.

Greg Zuerlein by Quarter

Quarter XPA XPM FGA FGM Conversion %
Quarter XPA XPM FGA FGM Conversion %
1st 15 12 13 12 85.71%
2nd 19 16 20 14 76.92%
3rd 15 15 13 10 89.29%
4th 13 13 19 17 93.75%
Final Two Minutes/OT 7 7 8 8 100.00%
Compiled by Aidan Davis.

This really is a strange phenomenon and one that is difficult to explain. One seemingly reaches the point of saying that Zuerlein should just pretend that every kick is a game-winner and he will have high levels of success, but part of the reason that situations are so dramatic near the end of the games is due to the hole that he helps dig with his misses.

In assessing Zuerlein’s struggles this season specifically, many people have pointed out the misses that he had in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the extra point that he missed last week against the Las Vegas Raiders. You don’t have to move the goalposts, no pun intended, all too much to see how he is helping turn would-be wins into losses (to be fair he has also made some kicks to help the Cowboys win games as noted).

We decided to take a look at how Zuerlein’s misses look contextually in hindsight. Unfortunately, they are not great.

Compiled by Aidan Davis.

What you are looking at here tells two stories:

  • The X-Axis is a given point differential at different times. Blue indicates the final score of games where grey indicates the differential at the specific time of a Zuerlein miss (field goal or extra point).
  • The Y-Axis indicates how many times each particular result has happened.

When Greg Zuerlein misses a kick of some kind the Cowboys go on to lose the game 69% of the time. What’s more is that in 38% of all games where he misses one kick, the team winds up losing that particular game by one score. If it isn’t obvious, points are precious.

The point of this overall conversation isn’t to indict Greg Zuerlein. He will miss kicks in the same way quarterbacks will make poor throws, receivers will drop balls, defenders will miss tackles or drop interceptions. Nobody is perfect.

But the data is overwhelming here. The Cowboys have hopes of playing deep into the postseason and are doing so with a sort of volatile level of predictability at one of the few positions responsible for directly putting points on the scoreboard. No kicker is perfect as noted but it is difficult to make the argument that Greg Zuerlein is the safest possible option for any team.