Cowboys on Special Teams
The Cowboys have been one of the more well-rounded teams in the NFL on both sides of the ball, but one of the most underrated parts of their team has been the special teams. Special-teams play can make or break a team’s playoff aspirations and, fortunately for Dallas, it very well could be the most efficient part of its team.
On punts, Chris Jones is one of the best in the business, averaging 45.9 yards per punt. He nets 40.5 yards per punt, has had 25 punts downed inside the 20-yard line and only allowed 22 punts to be returned. Some of the credit for that belongs to the punt-coverage team, but Jones has been consistent in his punting all year.
On punt returns, the Cowboys are pretty average. Lucky Whitehead averages 7.8 yards per return. While his long return is just 24 yards, he has game-breaking ability. Whitehead also averages 23.2 yards per kickoff return, with a long of 33 yards.
The primary strength of the Cowboys’ special teams has been kicker Dan Bailey. Bailey is arguably the best kicker in the NFL, averaging 89.5 percent accuracy on field goals for his career. He has missed only four field goals inside 40 yards in his his career, and is 48-of-54 inside 50 yards. He’s kicked five game-winners in overtime. Extra points are automatic for Bailey, as he has never missed one in his six years in the NFL.
This season, Bailey has missed five field-goal tries — twice from 47 yards as well as from 52, 55 and 56. He hit a career-long 56-yarder vs. the Giants in Week 1.
Packers on Special Teams
While Aaron Rodgers has received the headlines throughout Green Bay’s seven-game winning streak, the special teams has stepped up its play. In the Packer Report Special Teams Rankings, which measures net punting for and against, starting field position for and against following kickoffs, and field-goal accuracy, the Packers surged from 22nd to 17th during the final five weeks of the regular season. (Dallas finished eighth.) The Packers dominated the Giants’ highly touted kicking units in the Wild Card game to gain an overwhelming edge in field position.
Kicker Mason Crosby made 26-of-30 field-goal attempts for the season and owns the NFL record with 21 consecutive postseason field goals. Punter Jacob Schum’s numbers won’t blow anyone away — a 43.2-yard average and 39.1-yard net — but he won the net punting battle in five of the last seven games. Moreover, opponents returned a league-low 28.6 percent of his punts.
On paper, the kickoff-coverage is terrible. Green Bay finished last in the league in opponent starting field position following a kickoff but that unit has regrouped nicely since allowing a touchdown on the opening kickoff against Indianapolis in Week 9.
The return units have been OK. Micah Hyde averaged 5.8 yards on punt returns for the season but 8.5 the past three games. On kickoff returns, the Packers have been content to take the ball at the 25-yard line on touchbacks rather than take the ball out of the end zone.