The Dallas Cowboys enter 2020 with a new special teams coordinator, John Fassel. Can he turn around the weakest phase of America’s Team?
Special teams coordinator John Fassel is considered a special teams ‘lifer’, he has been a part of an NFL organizations special teams operation since 2005. Fassel most recently was the special teams coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams from 2012 up to this past season. He is a major edition to the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff in 2020.
The 2019 Dallas Cowboys struggled in the special teams department. The most obvious example was the struggles of kicker Brett Maher, who missed several key field goals early in the season. Eventually losing his kicking job after Week 13. Maher was a mediocre 20 of 30 on field goals up to that point.
The hidden example of the special teams struggles down in Big D, was their average starting field position. They were 30th in the NFL in that category, starting around the 26-yard line on average.
Many fans forget how hard it is to make up for a few yards over the course of a 60 minute NFL game, every yard seems to matter eventually. The leader of that category the New England Patriots started around 33-yard line on average. That seven-yard difference starts to add up over a season.
To achieve the same hypothetical offensive success as the Patriots, the Cowboys would have to go 1,190 yards further than them over the course of a season. That’s the result of 170 Dallas drives multiplied by the seven-yard difference. That is staggering, and that is why special teams can make or break a team.
It is no coincidence that the top six teams in average starting field position last season were playoff teams. It is also no coincidence that out of the bottom 14 NFL teams in that stat, only the Tennessee Titans were a playoff team. Field position has to be a priority for America’s Team in 2020.
The edition of Fassel is key though, he was able to change many games for the Rams over the years with fake punts. Creativity is never a bad thing to add to your franchise. He has a few key decisions going into 2020 though that could make his special teams unit pop.
The number one decision is deciding if kicker Kai Forbath’s 10 for 10 field goal kicking over the Cowboys last three games last season was a fluke or if he can continue that success into this season. Forbath’s last full 16-game season kicking was 2017 when he went 32 of 38 on field goals for the Minnesota Vikings.
The number two decision is deciding if punt returner Tavon Austin will return to the team, he is currently an unrestricted free agent. He averaged 4.9 yards per punt return last season. Well outside of the top 15 punt returners last season.
The number three decision is if punter Chris Jones will have some competition throughout training camp for his punting job. He was 32nd in the NFL for punting average last season, around eight yards behind the NFL lead in that stat.
There is room for improvement on special teams for the Cowboys in 2020, it is terrifying to think your offense would have to make up around 1,200 yards over the course of a season just to be on a level playing field with the top NFL teams.
John Fassel has to make a difference from day one. He has the 15 years of NFL experience to make it happen though. It’s a fascinating thing to watch in 2020 for Dallas Cowboys fans.