The Cowboys dominated the Rams on Sunday for a lot of reasons. I could list them here, but lists aren't fun. You know what is fun?
Kickoffs. Kickoffs are fun.
They're not fun to watch, especially since the kickoff got moved back and more of them started to fall into and out of the back of the end zone, making touchbacks become more common. Even when they're not touchbacks, I cringe watching them, because they're an invitation to injuries. Sure, the odd 90-plus yard return is thrilling, and they have the potential to swing games, and that's fun and neat and everything, but, mostly, I'm really fine with kicking it out of the end zone and moving on.
Enter, Dan Bailey.
This season, the Cowboys have kicked off (I really think the word should be kickoff'd, but no one listens to me) nineteen times this season. The opponents have returned five of those. The remaining 14 are touchbacks.
It's a small thing, but erasing the chances for a lengthy return plays in the kicking team's favor almost each time. Maybe more important, keeping your players from colliding with their guys seventy-five percent of the time will do quite a bit to keep your guys healthy over 16 games, which should probably figure in pretty heavily to each team's macro strategy.
Of course, you could say 'Yeah, are we really that worried about long kickoff returns?”, in which case I would say that a low-probability event- like a kickoff return TD- is exactly the kind of thing the Cowboys have shown a massive propensity towards allowing, so, yes, I am very worried about them.
In Sunday's game, the Rams never held starting field position past their own 25 (thanks to a missed Bailey FG, which we'll address soon, I promise). On top of all the other challenges the Rams faced, they had to go the length of the field for the end zone. Bailey giving them no chance of return certainly did nothing to hurt the Cowboys in that facet.
Oh, yeah, Bailey also kicks field goals pretty well, if you're into that sort of thing. Sunday's miss from 35 yards broke Bailey's perfect start to the season (the possibility remains the kick was blocked, but, from a statistical perspective, we'll count it as missed). The kick was only the second in Bailey's career missed from inside 40 yards, which is pretty impressive given the amount of times the Cowboys have settled for three points over the past three years. Put simply, if you get Bailey to the 23, he'll get you 3.
A career success rate of 96% within forty yards notwithstanding, the line that separates the kicking men from the other kicking men that don't have nearly the kind of job security that those previous kicking men enjoy is what happens from 40-plus yards. Here's a stat you're likely to get very, very tired of hearing pretty soon; Bailey hasn't missed from between 40 and 49 yards since 2011. That only encompasses eight attempts, so take it with a grain of salt; still, a year-plus streak at a range that the rest of the world averages seventy percent at (for 40 yards) to 60 percent at (for 49 yards) is impressive enough.
For a team that loves to play games as close as the Cowboys do, a leg as high quality as Bailey's is a good thing. For a franchise that has seen luminaries such as Martin Gramatica, Billy Cundiff, and a fairly good Mike Vanderjagt impersonator man the position over the last decade, Bailey's a great thing.