By all accounts, Dallas special teams coach Joe DeCamillis is a well-liked assistant who brings intensity and lots of colorful language to the Cowboys organization.
But I can’t really say that the results are looking too hot as we navigate through year four of DeCamillis' coaching in Dallas.
The story began as DeCamillis arrived at Valley Ranch in 2009, the same year that Cowboys Stadium opened up for business.
In fact, DeCamillis had only been on the staff for a few months when the Cowboys practice facility collapsed during a wind storm in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area on May 2. He had to be hospitalized, along with Rich Behm who was paralyzed from the waist down.
While the 2009 Cowboys ended up winning the NFC East and also their first playoff game since 1996, nothing since that season has made me think that the Dallas special teams unit is very...well, special.
If you’ve been following along this season, you know the low points thus far and that includes a few more on Sunday in Charlotte, North Carolina.
More on that in a minute.
If we just pick things up from the Seattle game in Week 2 of the regular season, when a blocked punt went far in burying the Cowboys and igniting the loudest outdoor venue in the NFL. No, that single play didn’t cost Dallas the game, but it sure didn’t help matters one bit. Dallas was never really close in that contest.
Or, we can go back to last week. The difference-making play in the ballgame was Jacoby Jones' NFL record-tying 108-yard kickoff return for a Baltimore touchdown. And, of course, a desperation field goal from 51 yards was missed by the normally reliable Dan Bailey in the waning seconds, which cost the Cowboys the football game outright.
But then came Sunday’s game against the Panthers, with the Cowboys desperately needing a win in order to snap a two-game losing skid.
Check out the opening three appearances by DeCamillis’ “special” teams to open the contest:
- Electing to receive the opening kickoff, Bailey drives the football straight out of bounds, putting Carolina on the their own 40-yard line to begin the game.
- Following the Panthers opening punt, Bryant was flagged for unnecessary roughness deep inside his own territory, which gave Dallas a starting field position of the 21 instead of their own 31.
- Following Dallas’ first punt, linebacker Orie Lemon was flagged for holding and that 10-yard penalty gave the Panthers a starting field position of their own 35 instead of the 25.
All of those screw-ups before the game was even four minutes old!
Something has to change here, and it needs to change soon.
The Cowboys have been struggling with special teams for years now, and about the only thing that seems settled is the fact that Dallas definitely has an accurate kicker. Also, Bailey’s leg is getting strong enough to where not having the cannon of David Beuhler on kickoffs just doesn’t matter in the slightest.
But that’s where anything special about the Cowboys kicking teams comes to a screeching stop.
Even in the second half in Charlotte, there was Bryant, for some reason returning punts with a groin injury (I understand that when you gotta win, you gotta win), fielding a punt inside the 20-yard line before losing about eight more yards on the scariest play of the game.
Dallas had to start at its own 10-yard line on that possession.
Yes, the coverage units have played pretty well for the most part—except, of course, when the Ravens Jacoby Jones is opening a half with the football in his arms.
It’s simple: The Cowboys have to start making bigger plays for themselves than they are for the competition when the football is being kicked around. Just knocking off the penalties would do wonders for this Dallas offense, which might be starting to find its stride on the offensive line.
These issues fall squarely on the shoulders of DeCamillis, and this is the nature of the beast.
No, DeCamillis isn’t personally at fault when Bryant loses his cool and gets flagged for poor conduct. But it does become his responsibility to make sure that Bryant is not on the field to make these mistakes if a comfort zone has yet to be established with a player like this—and they’re obviously hasn’t been.
If you can’t make something good happen then you shouldn’t be on the football field, ever. DeCamillis can have whomever he wants returning kicks and punts, and, if this is not actually how it is, then the Cowboys are more screwed up than anybody thought.
Liabilities can seldom be a part of winning football and DeCamillis, right now anyway, is more of a liability to this franchise than you might realize.