It has long been said that there are three phases to an NFL game: offense, defense, and special teams.
Offensively the Dallas Cowboys didn’t have a ton of problems on Thursday night. They certainly need to improve things in the redzone, but ultimately scoring points was not exactly an issue for them. They are not the problem at the moment.
The team’s defense didn’t register a single sack, but did technically generate a total of four turnovers. Some of those were a bit fluky and not exactly a result of things they caused, but they gave the team chances.
Hindsight will really shine a light on where special teams failed the Cowboys in Tampa as kicker Greg Zuerlein is one of the top culprits for the game ending in a loss versus a win. We may just be one week into the season, but the team needs to make sure they are thinking about the big picture here.
The Dallas Cowboys need to make sure that they are having a conversation about Greg Zuerlein
It has barely been two weeks since the Cowboys activated Zuerlein from the PUP list to the active roster and he certainly looked like someone that was rather rusty in his first regular season performance on Thursday night.
Zuerlein missed his first field goal attempt on the night (a 31-yard attempt) and I mean MISSED it. It was as if he pulled it all the way left. and then a bunch of wind pushed it further in that direction.
To make matters worse, after the Cowboys scored a touchdown on their next possession, Zuerlein missed the extra point. He also missed a 60-yard attempt near the end of the first half, but placing all of the blame on him there feels a bit unfair. Those are longshots anyway.
Focusing on the first shanked field goal and the missed extra point, those are four total points that the team did not have as a result of him. Keep in mind that the Cowboys lost by two which makes the math of this point in one kicker’s particular direction, something he owned up to after the game.
This was Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein's first game since offseason back surgery. He had shorter ramp-up time before Week 1 than usual. "No excuses. If I’m out there, I should make the kicks. No excuses."— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) September 10, 2021
Cowboys K Greg Zuerlein: "If I did my job, we win that game. I feel bad for the guys in there that played their ass off, and I didn’t hold up my end of the deal. ...We’re right there (as a team). I just have to do my job."— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) September 10, 2021
Accountability is respectable and hopefully Zuerlein is able to work on things to the point that he is more reliable, but we might have the answer to that question already.
Unfortunately Thursday night’s issue is not a new one for Zuerlein as a member of the Cowboys. The team as a whole was rather forgettable in 2020 so this didn’t carry as much weight as it would have in a normal season, but Zuerlein missed at least one kick (field goal or extra point) in seven of 16 games last season. That’s 44%, now 48% after Thursday night.
It is no secret that Zuerlein was hand-picked by Cowboys special teams coordinator John Fassel to be the team’s kicker when Fassel took over his position last year. Dallas has been struggling a bit to find stability at the kicking position since moving on from Dan Bailey three years ago, but the highest point of consistency actually came from the kicker that directly preceded Zuerlein, Kai Forbath.
Forbath played three games for the Cowboys down the stretch in 2019 and was a perfect 10 for 10 on both field goals and extra points. Nobody is saying that he specifically is the answer to the Cowboys’ current issue, but Dallas was able to find him late in the season in 2019 and have success, and they ultimately had less patience with him in the organization than they are exercising with Zuerlein in our current moment.
Plenty of people tend to overlook things like kicking and decide to just sweep it under the rug of things that will ultimately work themselves out. But Greg Zuerlein literally cost the Cowboys a potential win on Thursday night. Who knows what the ripple effect of that will be across the season this year?
This isn’t a small thing. It’s something that the Cowboys have to really think about. Or else they are doing the rest of the team a huge disservice.