When the Cowboys take the field in Washington on Sunday, they will be doing so without the services of a kicker that has never missed an extra point in his Cowboys career. With Dan Bailey injuring his groin against the 49ers, the Cowboys signed veteran Mike Nugent this week to fill in until Bailey is healthy.
Like all aging kickers, Nugent hit a wall with the Cincinnati Bengals, leading to his release in 2016. After setting the franchise scoring record and converting on all but three extra point attempts from 2010-2015, Nugent missed five extra points in five games in 2016.
Not having Dan Bailey as a weapon on special teams will undoubtedly hurt the Cowboys, but it will also put more of an emphasis on finishing drives with touchdowns.
When the Cowboys do this, will they go for two more?
Not only do the Cowboys rightfully have a ton of trust in their offense, but they have a unit that is built exceptionally well for two point plays. The last one they converted remains this epic scene at AT&T Stadium from last year's playoff game against the Packers.
Spreading things out at the two yard line and running Dak Prescott has been a go-to for Scott Linehan in this situation. With an elite red zone target like Dez Bryant, the lengthy Brice Butler, and slot-extraordinaire Cole Beasley, opposing defenses have to commit numbers to stopping the pass in tight.
This is a schematic way for the Cowboys to soften the box and create a favorable match up for their offensive line to win the line of scrimmage. Cowboys' fans have been calling for more read option plays from Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, and they may just get their wish on more aggressive two point attempts.
Providing deception in the running game with Dak Prescott – a terrific ball handler – as the decision maker gives these plays a much greater chance to succeed compared to a straight hand off to Elliott.
Both Elliott and Prescott are (obviously) tough runners to take down in two yards of space behind this front. Trusting Prescott as a runner also allows for wrinkles like these, a great two point conversion that was called back for a questionable Travis Frederick hold.
Elliott flying in motion pulls a defender out of the box for this designed Dak run. When the ball is snapped, both DEs for Los Angeles crash up the field, creating room for Prescott up the middle. The key block here was applied by Jonathan Cooper, who used a strong punch to keep his man out of Prescott's face. Dak follows Frederick into the end zone.
The holding penalty led to this play, where pressure on Prescott forced him to scramble before throwing the ball to Terrance Williams – who freed himself out of the slot seconds before. Essentially a fourth and goal play from seven yards out, the chances of converting here are slim, yet the Cowboys still ran a solid play.
Again trying to create misdirection and open up an easy throw for Prescott on the edge, the 49ers stay home in the back end and force a tough throw to Brice Butler. If this was Bryant, we may see a different result at the catch point, but the under thrown ball to Butler ends up being broken up.
Both attempts and conversions in going for two have been on the rise in the NFL. While 2017 has seen 25 such attempts fail already, the reality is that most offenses feel good about their chances of gaining two yards on any given play.
The Cowboys may be at the top of the league when it comes to this offensive confidence though, with the perfect combination of red zone pass targets, willing rushers in the backfield, and a play caller that makes it all work.
Keeping the offense on the field after touchdowns to find more opportunities for guys like Brice Butler, Cole Beasley, and Ryan Switzer seems like a very enticing option that the Dallas Cowboys may take until Dan Bailey is ready to be Mr. Automatic again.