With a game-winning field goal now on his resume, Brett Maher's first year in the NFL is getting better by the week. Facing the unenviable task of replacing Dan Bailey in Dallas, the Cowboys new kicker is making the organization look smart thus far.
In arguably the biggest surprise of their final cuts in 2018, Dallas released Bailey and gave the job to Maher. How much of the move was about saving salary cap space or being concerned about Bailey's performance, only the Cowboys know for sure.
While dealing with a groin injury in 2017, Dan missed four games and went just 75% on his field goals. he also missed two extra points, which were the first misses of that type in his career.
How much of Bailey's struggles were physical or mental are hard to say. He was supposedly healthy when he returned in mid-November, but that's when the misses started coming. The discouragement started to show in Dan's face toward the end of season.
The iceman was starting to melt.
How Dan Bailey would bounce back in 2018 was a "wait and see" situation. He was still the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history, and it was reasonable to have faith that he could get his mind and body right over the offseason.
Dallas brought in Brett Maher early in the offseason as the typical extra leg, assumably there to just save some wear and tear on Bailey and punter Chris Jones. But when the Cowboys started playing preseason games, Bailey was almost nowhere to be seen.
Dan attempted one kick all preseason; a 35-yard make in the second game. Otherwise, Maher was getting all the work. Brett went 4-of-5 on his field goals in the preseason, his only miss being from 52 yards out. He had three makes over 40 yards, and then hit a 57-yarder in the preseason finale.
Even after those four exhibition games, there was no thought that Dallas was about make a switch at kicker. When Maher made that 57-yarder, we were happy for him and hoped it would help him get a job with another team.
We don't know at what point Dallas decided they were going with Brett Maher. Was it in training camp, midway through preseason, or not up until that final day of roster cuts?
We also don't know what spurred the decision. Was it simply being able to save about $3 million on the salary cap by releasing the decorated veteran for the cheaper Maher? If Dallas was still interested in making a play for Seattle safety Earl Thomas, freeing up cap dollars was a logical objective.
But the way Dallas didn't hardly use Bailey in preseason, even during the Week 3 dress rehearsal, seemed a little odd at the time. In retrospect, it looks like the Cowboys' concerns about the veteran hadn't dissipated from 2017.
For whatever reasons, Dallas ended their eight-year relationship with Dan Bailey and took a chance on the Brett Maher.
While technically in his first NFL season, the 28-year-old Maher is no typical rookie. He went undrafted in 2013 out of Nebraska, and the former Cornhusker has spent time in a few different training camps over the years. He actually spent part of 2013 in Cowboys camp, stepping in for a few weeks while Bailey was injured.
Brett's primary football activity has been in the Canadian Football League, where he worked as both a kicker and punter. But he was still in the NFL radar, being brought in the Cleveland Browns camp in 2017 and then returning to Dallas this year.
Maher's first kick in the regular season was a 47-yard miss, causing many to roll eyes and light torches over losing Dan Bailey. I guess you can't blame them given the circumstances.
Since then, Maher's made his next eight kicks. They include a 50-yarder in Seattle and then his 4-for-4 performance Sunday against Detroit, capped by the game winner.
Dan Bailey found work with the Vikings, being signed in Week 3. He's gone 3-for-3 so far with Minnesota, though one of those banked in off the far upright.
As if kicking in the NFL wasn't pressure enough, Brett Maher has to deal with Bailey's ghost in Dallas. Their 2018 seasons will be compared relentlessly by bitter Cowboys fans.
So far, though, Maher is getting it done. He's 88% on the year, which matches Bailey's career percentage. And he just gave the Cowboys a critical win with a perfect day and a game-winning make.
The torches are cold and the eyes are unrolled, for now.
Cowboys, Redskins Week 7 Injury Report
Though it's still early in the 2018 season, the lead in the NFC East is up for grabs when the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins meet this Sunday. Both teams would like their full roster available for the game, but the Week 7 injury reports indicate that won't be the case.
Here are the players either confirmed to be out of action tomorrow or are otherwise listed by Dallas and Washington:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - OUT
- CB Chidobe Awuzie (ankle) - Questionable
The Cowboys are getting healthier, with Sean Lee finally off the injury report and set to return to action. Not only will Dallas get their elite linebacker back, but it means a deeper rotation while the team remains without Joe Thomas.
Tavon Austin elected to skip season-ending surgery on his injured groin, but his should be out a few weeks. That will put Cole Beasley on punt returns and perhaps create more offensive opportunities for Deonte Thompson and Brice Butler.
Awuzie remains limited in practice but has played the last few weeks despite the ankle injury. There is no reason to think he won't suit up in Washington.
- WR Jamison Crowder (ankle) - OUT
- WR Paul Richardson (shoulder, knee) - Doubtful
- S Troy Apke (hamstring) - Doubtful
- RB Adrian Peterson (ankle, shoulder) - Questionable
- RB Chris Thompson (rib, knee) - Questionable
- G Shawn Lauvao (calf) - Questionable
- CB Quinton Dunbar (shin) - Questionable
- CB Danny Johnson (forearm) - Questionable
It's a rough time for Washington's offensive weapons. They will definitely be without slot receiver Jamison Crowder and likely starter Paul Richardson, who current lead all WRs in receptions. Josh Doctson will put into a major role, as will veteran Brian Quick off the bench.
Peterson and Thompson both practiced this week and should play, but have nagging injuries that could slow them down. Washington is already missing Rob Kelley and rookie Derrius Guice, who are both on injured reserve.
Starting left guard Shawn Lauvao is also nursing a lower leg injury, but practiced in a limited capacity all week. His backup is undrafted rookie Casey Dunn out of Auburn.
In the defensive backfield, starting CB Quinton Dunbar was a Friday addition to the injury report with a shin injury. He did practice with it, though, so will likely play. Backup safety Troy Apke is doubtful with a hamstring issue.
Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins
The Dallas Cowboys are 0-3 on the road this season. Not only do you already know this, but they do as well, needing to build off a 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 6 at AT&T Stadium to claim first place in the NFC East at the Washington Redskins.
Although the Cowboys were given Monday and Tuesday off, they are focused on addressing one alarming reason why the team has struggled so much on the road -- particularly on offense.
Running Back Ezekiel Elliott pointed out the Cowboys lack of communication in early season losses at Carolina, Seattle, and Houston. "Seeing the same thing," was the issue Elliott addressed when discussing the Cowboys knowing their assignments in hostile territory.
Yesterday, Quarterback Dak Prescott told the media of a meeting between players and coaches that addressed this specifically.
Dak Prescott said players & coaches held a meeting before today's practice to "address the elephant in the room," which is poor communication among the offense on the road. "I know we'll take a lot from that conversation," The QB said.
Unlike Prescott's remarks about new "wrinkles" in the Cowboys offense prior to a 26-24 home win over the Lions, this has a tangible sign of progress for an offense that made scoring 40 on the Jaguars look impossibly easy. The Cowboys season high in total yards remains the 414 amassed against Detroit, after which Prescott confessed that he simply tells the media "things" that aren't necessarily true.
The Cowboys didn't necessarily do anything new against the Lions, but they most assuredly will this week against the Redskins, at least by way of signaling and remaining in sync on offense.
Prescott and Elliott's leadership is on full display here, and their on-field impact can be attributed as closely to the Cowboys successes or failures as any duo in the NFL.
Missing is a similar impact from Center Travis Frederick, who remains sidelined as he deals with GSB.
Joe Looney's play at center has been good enough to pave the way for Elliott's 586 rushing yards so far, second to Todd Gurley at 623 yards, but his ability to call checks for the offense is understandably much more limited.
Looney deserves all the credit in the world for his strong play in place of Frederick. The Cowboys have never asked for him to be anything he isn't, a reliable depth option that earned a second contract and with it the starting center job for the time being in Dallas.
He has the full support of his teammates, Frederick included. All of this is lovely to put down in writing until Looney and the Cowboys have been forced to step on the field with the crowd against them and attempt to sustain a drive, something Frederick will unfortunately not be a part of for a long while.
If the Cowboys offense isn't going to unveil new wrinkles in the scheme, there is one wrinkle worth mentioning that's new to the team's communication on offense this season. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan up in the box, his play calls are sent down to first-year Quarterback Coach Kellen Moore, who has been in the ear of Prescott ever since playing with him from 2016-17.
Sure, these are things that could've been addressed before the Cowboys managed only eight points in week one, turned the ball over three times in week three, or punted away their best chance at victory in week five. The best teams in the league likely already have these things down to routine, and few would consider the Cowboys anywhere near the upper echelon of the NFL.
Following sixty minutes of football at a division rival they've won four in a row against, with an even more impressive five game win streak at the Redskins, the Cowboys could control their own path atop the NFC East.
That feels truly incredible for such a young team faced with a steep learning curve early in the season, adjusting to it on the fly as they prepare to leave everything on the field before a bye week.
#WASvsDAL: Why This Game Holds Increased Importance
It feels incredibly cliche to call the week 7 match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins a "must win." Especially for someone like me who values statistics, logic, and analytics in sports.
But when the analytics agree with the narratives, those narratives do tend to get my attention. And this week that would appear to be the case.
According to Brian Burke of ESPN, the Cowboys's week 7 game has the highest playoff probability leverage in the entire NFC, and is second to only the Houston Texans' big game with Jacksonville around the entire league.
Playoff leverage for week 7. DAL, WAS, PHI, CAR, MIN, CHI with a lot on the line in the NFC. HOU, CIN, and JAX in the AFC.
What does this mean? Well playoff probability leverage is pretty intuitive. Basically it is the difference between a win this week and a loss this week in terms of probability to make the playoffs.
For the Cowboys that number is at 27%, with a win over Washington catapulting their playoff probability over 50%. On the other hand, a loss would take a big hit to their playoff hopes just 7 games into the NFL season.
As you might expect, this game means a lot to the Redskins' playoff probability as well. Their playoff leverage this week is at 14%, but a win would mean "more" to Dallas than Washington based on the probabilities.
Fellow NFC East foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, also have a lot to gain/lose this Sunday, with their leverage sitting at 22%. According to Burke's model, the Eagles and Cowboys have the best chances of making the playoffs at this point, but if each team wins Sunday the Eagles will still have a higher percentage.
Of course a lot can and will change week to week, despite what the metrics say. The Cowboys still have two games remaining with the NFC East favorite Eagles this year, and will get another crack at Washington at home later in the season. Plus the Cowboys have a few NFC wild card and playoff contenders remaining on their schedule, such as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. (Yes, the 2-4 Falcons are very much alive in this crazy conference).
Still, the difference between 4-3 (2-0 in the division) and 3-4 (1-1 in the division) is huge, as is shown by Brian Burke's playoff probability leverage metric.
Star Blog2 weeks ago
If Jason Garrett’s Out, Who’s In? Potential HC Candidates
Star Blog7 days ago
Should the Dallas Cowboys Trade for These 2 Oakland Raiders?
Player News1 week ago
Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL’s Top 10 Rookies
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Did Garrett’s OT Decision Cost Him More Than Just the Game?
Star Blog1 week ago
Is Jason Garrett Losing the Cowboys Locker Room?
Player News5 days ago
Oakland Raiders’ Wide Receiver Amari Cooper On the Trade Block
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
Report: Jason Garrett “Not Going Anywhere” with Possible Extension Coming Soon
Game Notes1 week ago
Jaylon Smith Looks Healthy, And The NFL Should Be Terrified