Dallas Cowboys: Dallas Cowboys: Can their special teams be special?

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

Over the past few seasons the Dallas Cowboys special teams unit has struggled mightily. In 2019 they were one of the absolute worst in the NFL. Struggling in most major categories, Dallas special teams boasted one of the worst average starting positions we’ve seen in years. Last season they they improved, but they were still not a complete unit, and were extremely inconsistent. They took a step, to be sure, but for the Dallas Cowboys to be seen as a legit contender in 2021, they will need to take another step.

If you remember, Chris Jones ended up having abdominal surgery and was replaced by Hunter Niswander midseason. Niswander was an upgrade but still averaged only 47.2 yards per punt last season. Greg Zuerlein was the placekicker and while he led the league in attempts, he only made 82.9% of field goals and 91.7% of extra points. His kickoffs placed him in the bottom ten of the league for average distance, and middle of the league for touchbacks.

For 2021 the Dallas Cowboys special teams needs tp be extra special for this team take the next step.

While the Cowboys were not bad on returns but they were bad on allowing returns. They ranked 28th in kickoff return yards allowed and 15th in punt return yards allowed. The kickoff coverage has to get better in 2021, and an infusion of young talent should help, but it is still something to watch going through the season. With a still-building defense, the special teams will have to help with the starting position battle.

Most of the article thus far has been about how the Cowboys have done in defending kicks and even some of kicking themselves. However, one thing we have yet to touch upon is returning kicks themselves. This season should see the same returners in Tony Pollard on kickoffs and CeeDee Lamb on punt returns.

First, let’s look at Tony Pollard.

Dallas Cowboys Kick Returns

In 2020, Tony Pollard had the third most kickoff returns in the NFL with 32 and ranked fourth in return yards. While Pollard did not have a kickoff return for a touchdown, his long was 67 yards placing him tenth, and he was eighth in average return yards.

If Pollard can maintain this play and increase his average just a little bit in 2021, the Cowboys will be set up nicely in average starting position (unless the defense does not help on its end).

Dallas Cowboys Punt Returns

Punt returns were a different story for the Cowboys. CeeDee Lamb had the seventh most returns in 2020, however, ranked only sixteenth in return yardage and eleventh in average return yardage.

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Some of the reasoning may have been due to the Cowboys playing it safe with Lamb.  Lamb figured to be a vital part of the offense and Dallas was hesitant to risk him. And some could have been an avoidance of punters to kick to him. Lamb has special ability with the ball in hands so punters likely avoided him.  This season, with a much larger expectation on Lamb on offense, keeping him on punt returns seems risky, even if his explosiveness could be utilized on returns.

For 2021, the Cowboys must get more consistency across the special teams units. The biggest change that will need to happen is kick return defense. If the Cowboys can win the field position battle more often than not, it should help them win games.

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The special teams need to be special, they don’t need to be elite, but they need to be better, and it all starts Thursday.

  • Published on 09/07/2021 at 12:18 PM
  • Last updated at 09/07/2021 at 12:18 PM