IRVING, Texas –With star collegiate players taking over special teams roles and a hodge-podge of talent taking the field, the beginning of the season is typically difficult on special teams coverage.
Sometimes, the best way to make up for the newly-formed coverage groups is with precision in the kicking game. Against a great returner like Seattle's Leon Washington, who holds several franchise records, the placement and distance of kicks by Dan Bailey and Chris Jones will be crucial. Washington had an 83-yard kickoff return and a 52-yard punt return against Arizona on Sunday, proving he can still be a threat at the age of 30.
"You certainly want to limit his opportunities any way you can," head coach Jason Garrett said. "The kickers and the punters play a big role in this game. There's no question about that. But we have to go cover. There's no expectation that we can just take him out of the game by kicking the ball through the end zone or whatever the case might be. We have to plan and practice really well in preparing for him, because again, he's a difference-making player for their football team."
For Bailey, the best way to stop Washington on kickoffs is to try to boot the ball deep into the end zone, when the wind allows, but direction is important as well, if the ball isn't carrying. Bailey had 24 touchbacks on 67 kickoffs last year.
Jones, appearing in only his third game last week, did a nice job on his two punts, finishing with a net average of 51.5 yards. Coincidentally, he made his NFL debut against the Seahawks halfway through last year, filling in for an injured Mat McBriar, and forcing Washington into three fair catches.
"I think if I can just pinpoint just where the ball is going to be, and I put it there with 4.8, 4.9, 5.0 hang time, something like that, we're going to get a fair catch," Jones said. "Or, we're going to get somebody to run down there and rock him, and possibly get a turnover or something like that. A lot of the stress on me is going to be directional – let's get it outside the numbers – and the hang time. That's my main focus this week."