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Science Lab: Aubrey off to hotter start than … Bailey?


FRISCO, Texas — Can he kick it? Yes, he can — at least so far. When a tribe goes on a quest to find sustenance, in this case an NFL team hunting for a worthy kicker, it's often a harrowing journey. For the Dallas Cowboys, who have been starved for consistency at the position since they released Dan Bailey in 2018, the carousel now turns to Brandon Aubrey's right foot.

Word to Phife Dawg, Q-Tip and Jarobi.

Aubrey was signed this summer to compete with Tristan Vizcaino, who was released after a terrible showing by both in the team's annual Blue-White Practice on August 5 in Oxnard, with Aubrey's performance leaving many to rightfully wonder if he'd last much longer himself.

Personally, I wanted a veteran kicker added to the roster, and pronto. What's more is the fact my confidence level at the position was roughly one percent — on my sliding confidence meter — which meant I believed it possible that Aubrey could turn things around; but that I also felt it far from plausible.

But, you see, this is why you don't dig into a stance and become immovable. Instead, you should always theorize solely on the evidence in front of you, while being open to the possibility that new evidence will arise that changes your point of view.

That's science, and so is what I'm about to show you.

Let's do away with recency bias entirely and talk about Bailey for a moment, shall we? We shall. And you might want to grab some popcorn for this.

Extra butter. The kind you get at the theater.

Bailey, like Aubrey, was an undrafted free agent brought in to compete for kicker before winning out in 2011. He went onto become one of the most prolific weapons in the history of the franchise, but what's often never discussed is how his first year in the league went.

So, let's.

Reality Check

No greatness is ever truly born without struggle.

To that point, here are Bailey's lowlights from his rookie season in 2011:

  • Missed one of first three FG attempts

Misses, charted (with context):

  • Week 2: 21-yard FG miss vs. SF
  • Week 13 (Part 1): 53-yard miss vs. AZ
  • Week 13 (Part 2): 49-yard miss in vs. AZ (DAL lost 19-13 in OT)
  • Week 14: 47-yard miss vs. NYG (DAL lost 37-34 in regulation)

I'd like you to take a moment and test your honesty … meter (*wink*) … for me.

Would you have given Bailey as much grace as the Cowboys did when he was a rookie? In a season wherein they missed the playoffs in part because of his misses? Or would you have pleaded with the Cowboys to cut bait and try another path??

"Uh-oh. Does Dan Bailey have the yips?" - Mac Engel, Fort-Worth Star Telegram (Dec. 4, 2011)

Yes, you would've, and I would've joined you. And that proves that, sometimes, we need to simply ride the ride and see how things play out before making a final determination. And while Bailey was markedly improved in Year 2, his 51-yard miss against the Ravens in Baltimore led to a 31-29 loss with only two seconds left in regulation.

My point is we tend to romanticize what we've been distanced from by time itself.

I will forever love Bailey, and digging through his files wasn't exactly pleasant, but what does science care about my feelings on the matter, or any matter, for that matter?

Spoiler: it doesn't.

One more thing:

  • Touchback Rate (Bailey): 35.8%

Nearly two-thirds of Bailey's kicks were returnable.

Blame Game

As for the misses, for context, let me remind you of how Jason Garrett infamously iced his own kicker in the bout with the Cardinals, calling timeout on the final kick in what amounted to nothing more than a practice kick for Bailey, one he made before lining back up and missing his second go.

Though you could then wonder that, while Garrett justifiably received a mountain of criticism for what he did, why couldn't Bailey make the second attempt after having gotten a practice swing?

For me, the blame goes to both, and equally.

Ultimately, those losses weren't only attributable to Bailey, which would be unfair to drop all of that into his lap, but the kicker is paid to save the day as a worst-case scenario and, best-case, to put points on the board when he's asked to prior to the game being on the line.

In the scenarios above, he did neither, and the Cowboys went on to finish with an 8-8 season in the first season as full-time head coach in Dallas; and they'd miss the playoffs while seeing the Giants (9-7) win the division.

Yes, the Giants won the NFC East with only one more win.


Different Eras

In all, Bailey missed five field goal attempts as a rookie (a respectable 86.5% accuracy rate), two that were longer than 49 yards, two that were longer than 40 yards but shorter than 49 yards and the aforementioned 21-yarder, though he was perfect on his extra point attempts that year, and that also matters so let's mention it here; but not as much as you'd think.

I mean, damn, even the extra point comparison isn't apples-to-apples.

It's more like apples-to-watermelon kicks.

Bailey was kicking extra points from the two-yard line, as was the custom prior to 2015. Aubrey kicks them from the 15-yard line. The distance might not seem like that big of a deal, that is until you factor in the extra point accuracy rate since the move to the 15-yard line against how high it was for kickers prior to that change being made.

It dipped in 2021 to 92.5 percent, the lowest since 1979, though it dipped below 99 percent, league-wide, only twice in the decade before the ball was moved back 12 yards.

A seven-percent drop, roughly proves Bailey mostly played in a different era, even if not entirely and, two seasons after the change, his XP percentage started to swiftly fall off of a cliff faster than Thelma and Louise in their 1966 Ford Thunderbird.

And it led to him being released, a move that started this entire roller coaster.

Now let's check in on Aubrey through two games:

  • Extra point attempts: 5-for-6 (83.3%)
  • Field goal attempts: 7-for-7 (100%)
  • Touchback rate: 100%

The former fútbol player is responsible for 26 points through two games (37% of the team's production) and if you take that away, the Cowboys still win convincingly, but not astronomically; so credit where it's due. He's doing his job, and that's worth a vote of confidence until/unless something happens to force another round of heightened concern.

Go by what's in front of you, is all I'm saying.

Otherwise, are you any different than the national talking heads you claim to loathe?


Confidence is a Liquid

... and it should never be confused with a solid.

I was recently asked what my confidence level is with Aubrey, and it took me a moment to ponder it, but I ultimately landed at a robust 90 percent.

I'll admit, that's quite the jump, but this is also after seeing Aubrey set the Cowboys' all-time franchise record for most consecutive field goals made to start his career (yes, he set a record only two weeks in) by going a perfect 7-for-7 on attempts thus far).

His sole miss was an extra point against the New York Giants in Week 1, on his first ever kick in a Cowboys' uniform, but that was also in the rain and the operation was imperfect, and I also wonder if he was kicking the "right ball" on that attempt, given how quickly they tried to get the kick off, for some reason (kickers have specific, roughed up footballs that they kick that are reserved for them). Was it one of those, or a shiny new ball made slippery by rain?

The world may never know.

*crunches down on Tootsie Pop*

Aubrey has been cold as ice ever since, and even split the uprights on a 55-yard boot against the New York Jets in Week 2 on a kick that had room to spare.

I'm in right now.

Not all-in, but I'm in.

Consistency Kills Panic

Oh, and why is my confidence meter not brimming at 100 percent? I knew you'd ask.

Brett Maher, that's why.

Maher had a resurgent season in his latest stint with the Cowboys in 2022, and I bought in lock, stock and barrel. Then came the playoffs, however, and the wheels not only came off of his wagon, so did the walls, and the horse that was pulling it died of an infection after breaking its leg stepping into a pothole on the road to Tampa.

So until I see an entire season (including playoffs) of high-level kicking from Aubrey, earning 100 percent confidence from me is simply not an option. Allow me to define "high-level" as not a demand for perfection, folks, though I'll most certainly take a heaping bowl of that, but instead a demand that if/when he misses, that it doesn't cost the Cowboys a game — any game.

Bailey's misses helped end the Cowboys season.

If none of Aubrey's do, it would mean he only positively impacted the outcome of 2023, and not negatively and, from there, we can revisit his final accuracy rate and whatnot, but from a place of possible coronation; one he's going to have to really earn in a nation of Cowboys fans and analysts who have seen the worst of the worst when it comes to kickers, and far more often than we've seen the best of the best.

Just remember that, as it turns out, the best of the best was anything but when he first started out trying to prove that he could be. He went on to earn a Pro Bowl nod in 2015 and I'd readily argue with anyone who'll listen that he deserves a seat as the first-ever placekicker to ascend to the team's coveted Ring of Honor.

He was really that good, and for several years ... but he definitely wasn't in his first year. And maybe that's the glaring science lesson for all of us.

Don't report then observe.

Observe, then report.

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