Special teams play in 2019 was anything but for the Dallas Cowboys. From the kicker to the punter to the return teams, the Cowboys’ special teams units needed to be better than they were. So in the offseason, the Cowboys emphasized fixing the special teams units by bringing in John Fassel.
Fassel came in with an excellent reputation around the NFL and is considered one of the best special teams coaches in the league. Early in 2020, the Cowboys’ special teams units have made a significant impact, and though things didn’t go well in the early going against the Atlanta Falcons, they finished strong and were a big reason the Cowboys won on Sunday.
As the Cowboys were attempting to find a spark after their horrific start to the game, we got a glimpse of the aggressive reputation that followed John Fassel to Dallas. Playing from behind, the Cowboys attempted a fake punt pass and a fake punt run. While both attempts failed to convert, it was exciting to see this team take a couple of risks on special teams to maximize their offensive possessions. The failure to convert on those fake punt attempts put the defense in a big hole, but already in a deep hole, there’s nothing wrong with taking a chance at that point of the game.
On the Chris Jones fake punt pass to C.J. Goodwin, they got what they were looking for from the Atlanta Falcons special teams unit and nearly pulled off the fake. Unfortunately, it wasn’t executed well as Jones under-threw the ball to Goodwin, but they almost converted it to give the ball back to the offense.
Despite not getting those two conversions, special teams made its mark on the outcome of the football game. After pulling within one with just under two minutes to play, the Cowboys had to execute an onside kick to give themselves a chance to win the game. Greg Zuerlein perfectly kicked his football tornado to slowly travel the ten yards necessary for the Cowboys to attempt to recover the ball. Once it did, special teams ace, C.J. Goodwin pounced on the football and held on to give the offense one more opportunity.
On the ensuing drive, Dak Prescott led the Cowboys into field goal range and gave Greg Zuerlein a chance to kick the game-winning field goal. Zuerlein left no doubt on his kick as it went straight down the middle to give the Dallas Cowboys a 40-39 win over the Falcons for their first win of the 2020 season.
Though it’s is stating the obvious, but without the recovered onside kick and the Greg Zuerlein successful kick at the end of the game, the Dallas Cowboys don’t win that football game. Special teams more than made up for the failed fake punt attempts.
Special teams play wasn’t perfect on the day, but they made significant plays down the stretch that helped the Cowboys win the game. In 2019, special teams play was part of the problem as the Cowboys finished 8-8. In week two against the Falcons, they were part of the solution.