Dallas Cowboys: Fixing the Special Teams

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 22: Kai Forbath #3 of the Dallas Cowboys attempts a field goal during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in the game at Lincoln Financial Field on December 22, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 22: Kai Forbath #3 of the Dallas Cowboys attempts a field goal during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in the game at Lincoln Financial Field on December 22, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys have hired Mike McCarthy as head coach, Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator, it appears Kellen Moore will be the offensive coordinator, but special teams is still up in the air.

Yeah an article about special teams for the Dallas Cowboys. Everyone is talking about the offense or the defense, but until there are issues, rarely does the special teams get discussed. Looking at the 2019 Dallas Cowboys, it is apparent the special teams were not “special” at all. Let’s look how to fix it in one offseason.

The first job at hand will be to hire a new special teams coordinator. While these names aren’t household like other coaches, there are some names out there to look at. One of the first names on my radar is Brayden Coombs. Last year, Matt LeFleur tried to get Coombs to be a part of his staff. Coombs stayed in Cincinnati as their assistant special teams coordinator.

Coombs has eight years of experience and the word around the league is he is a rising star. In the eight years with the Bengals, they have ranked near the top in return yards, average starting position, and opponent average starting position. While their field goals have not been good, some of that falls on the stagnant offense not getting into scoring position.

The next name would be Rod Wilson. Rod is in his third year as the Chiefs Special Teams Coordinator. With him and Dave Toub heading the special teams the Chiefs have been one of the best all around special teams units in the NFL. They rank near the top in kicking and kick returns. If Toub doesn’t get another head coaching interview and stays in Kansas City, Wilson would be a name I would love to see.

There are other names, but finding a good special teams coach is not as easy as one would think. With the rule changes over the past few years, a special teams coach needs to be able to draw up plays, work on assignments, and fine tune the players now more than ever. Tracy Smith in Houston, Phil Galiano in New Orleans, and the recently available Tomas McGaughey from the Giants could all be possible names. There are others, but these are some names to watch.

Once Mike McCarthy has decided on his special teams coach, which he has historically not had good special teams, he will need to look at the kicking game right away. It looks like Kai Forbath did everything the Cowboys needed him to do late in the season, and that could lead to him staying. But the punting was abysmal and might need to be addressed.

After the draft there are always undrafted free agents, and usually kickers fall here. Blake Gillikin out of Penn State was one of the best college punters over the past two years. Either he or Derek Adams out of Kent State who had similar numbers to Gillikin should be brought in to compete for the job. Either of those and Kai Forbath should shore up the kicking game fairly quickly.

Now that leaves the return game itself. Both defending and returning kicks are areas the Cowboys need help in. In 2019 the Dallas Cowboys had the fewest total return yards. They ranked fourth worst in punt return yardage with 131, and 31st in kick return yards. Their 456 yards made them the only team under 500 total return yards in the NFL.

There are some players on the team currently like who could fill the kick return role, but either way, the Cowboys have to be more aggressive in returns. Far too often were fair catches and letting the ball fall in the end zone “good enough” for the Cowboys. They have to be willing to return a kick. They have to change the mentality before they can even look for a good returner.

On the defending side of special teams, the Cowboys did not put some of their better players in the right positions. They tended to rely on throwing the young guys and backups out there are a general rule. While this is generally the rule with special teams, since the Cowboys drafted specific players to fit a role and not based on overall talent, there was a serious lack of athleticism on special teams.

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Now I am not advocating for a special teams draft, but there is nothing wrong with utilizing the speed, agility, and athleticism of player drafted for other fits on the roster. Jason Garrett was famous for putting a guy in a box and that was it, he was only supposed to do what the box was labeled. The Cowboys brought up Ventell Bryant this season to play special teams, even though Bryant was further down the depth chart and it made the coaching staff uncomfortable to bring him up, he immediately made an impact.

The first step is Mike McCarthy hiring a good special teams coach and investing some time into it. If he has changed his ways this is a good place to start proving that. The special teams can be improved in a season, they just have to want to change them. This season was a disaster on special teams, so there is some hope the front office realizes this.

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So for now, enjoy the coaching staff being built, the talk of free agency coming, and draft prep. There will be plenty of eyes on how this staff gets built, and very few will take notice of the special teams hire. However, if 2019 taught us anything, it is special teams need to be “special”. Here is looking to 2020 and what changes are made.

  • Published on 01/07/2020 at 12:01 PM
  • Last updated at 01/07/2020 at 13:20 PM