FRISCO, Texas – With so many questions to answers, this series will take a look at each position on the roster, and what choices might face the front office heading into 2021.
We'll continue with the special teams unit, an area that had its share of issues during the 2020 season.
Today, let's focus on just how well this unit performed and where they need to go next for the upcoming season.
How to evaluate special teams moving forward?
Quick, try to recap the Cowboys' special teams in 2020.
What stands out? What was the defining moment? Where does the special teams unit rank among the areas of concern.
For the most part, there is a negative tone regarding the Cowboys' special teams this past season.
And rightfully so, considering the worst play of the entire season – a turning point in a pivotal game that proved to be pivotal for the rest of the schedule – was the failed fake punt against Washington on Thanksgiving.
While the head coach Mike McCarthy should also get blame for allowing the play, it was a play that seemed to create a dark cloud over the entire season of special teams, and its coach John Fassel.
And yes, fake punts were not the Cowboys' specialty. They ran three last year – two in one game against the Falcons – and failed to execute any of them.
So with that, it's hard to put a positive spin on the Cowboys' special teams in 2020.
But when you break it down, and there is a veteran sportswriter who does just that every year, the Cowboys actually had a decent-to-good showing in the kicking game.
Rick Gosselin, long-time writers in the Dallas area who is a Hall of Fame voter, put together an extensive special teams ranking unit every year, detailing 16 different categories and creating a scoring system that highlights the best and worst of special teams.
The Cowboys ranked 11th out of 32 teams.
Some of the categories that boosted the Cowboys' score the most were kickoff return, where they ranked third in the league with a 26.2 average. They had four different returns of 60 yards or more, including three by Tony Pollard. And that doesn't even include the kickoff return for a touchdown by CeeDee Lamb as a result of an onside kick.
The Cowboys ranked ninth in the kickoff return coverage, fourth in average starting field position and third in field goals made.
In fact, the only category in which the Cowboys ranked in the lower half of the league was punts inside the 20-yard line.
For the most part, the Cowboys scored well in just about all special teams categories.
Let's not forget the first two wins of the season were a result of game-winning field goals by Greg Zuerlein, who also helped the Cowboys beat Atlanta with his watermelon onside kick.
Later in the season, against the Steelers, the Cowboys had a creative punt return that went 78 yards thanks to a throwback reverse.
Against the 49ers later in the season, they had two forced fumbles on the kickoff team that led to points.
Moving forward to 2021, there will be some tough decisions for the Cowboys to make regarding key players such as Chris Jones, LP Ladouceur and C.J. Goodwin.
But overall, aside from a costly fake punt at the wrong time in front of a nationally-televised audience, the Cowboys had more positive moments from the special teams.
If they can get the core group back in 2021, it should be something to build on.