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Cowboys kicker concerns: Greg Zuerlein takes uneven 2021 campaign into playoffs, team needs insurance

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As the NFL postseason prepares to make landfall 10 days from now, the Dallas Cowboys find themselves hoping to repair some obvious offensive issues that could be made more challenging by the loss of game-breaking wideout Michael Gallup with a torn ACL. But that’s not the only thing that needs some attention. Their special teams unit has been mostly stellar this season, but the weakness in that phase of the game has been kicker Greg Zuerlein, who’s been exceedingly boom or bust in 2021.

Zuerlein, who signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract in 2020 that ultimately supplanted the newly signed deal for incumbent kicker Kai Forbath, has both been responsible for helping the Cowboys win games this season as well as helping to cost them victories when they could least afford it. Returning from a back injury that landed him on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list in training camp, the 34-year-old missed two field goal attempts and a PAT attempt in the Week 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a seven-point dent in a contest the Cowboys lost by two.

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As insurance against it happening again, and despite their initial vote of confidence following that performance, the Cowboys re-signed kicker Lirim Hajrullahu for a second time (the first was in August to kick in the preseason finale), but released Hajrullahu when Zuerlein acquitted himself well in the Week 2 victory against the Los Angeles Chargers — making both of his FG attempts and both of his PATs in a game the Cowboys won by three points. Zuerlein has been uneven ever since, and he joins other Cowboys who were at fault in the loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17, one that saw him miss a 43-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter that would’ve tied the game early. They’d go on to lose by three points.

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It now bears taking a look at Zuerlein’s numbers through his 15 starts in 2021 ahead of the all-important postseason.

36/41(87.8%)*

28/34 (82.4%)

5/5 (100%)

15/16 (93.8%) 

6/8 (75%)

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2/5 (40%)

*denotes career low

As you can see in the table above, Zuerlein’s percentage of extra points made is at a career-low just one year after setting a new career-low in 2020 (91.7%) — marking a very clear downward trend in that category. Additionally, his 82.4% field goal accuracy is down over last season’s output (82.9%), and more troubling than anything would be his glaring lack of proficiency on attempts that approach 50 yards and longer. Once having earned the moniker “The Leg” in his time under John “Bones” Fassel as members of the Los Angeles Rams, it’s clear that, as of late, that is no longer the strength of his game.

This could come into play in the tournament, as it has at times during the regular season, and it would put the Cowboys in more of a crunch when considering their offense is also shaky at the moment. For if Dallas isn’t consistently extending drives and punctuating them with touchdowns, it’ll need Zuerlein to be that much better at what he does, only there are times when he is also performing as questionably as the offense he’s supposed to act as a productive extension of.

When asked about Zuerlein’s struggles in 2021, owner Jerry Jones didn’t undercut the team’s longtime public confidence in the kicker, but he also didn’t beat the drum as we’ve seen the Cowboys do in the past.

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“I think the most important part of a kicker is consistency, consistency, and it’s not consistently missing. That’s it,” said Jones.

Take that however you will, but if the Cowboys are peeking into possible options outside of Zuerlein, that ship might have already sailed. They re-signed Hajrullahu a third time this season when Zuerlein missed a game due to COVID-19, but the former has since spent time with the Washington Football Team before being poached from their practice squad by the Carolina Panthers. There’s always Forbath, who was literally perfect in his short time with the Cowboys and, as mentioned, earned a contract extension that was trumped by Fassel’s want of Zuerlein in Dallas — after the latter parted ways with the Rams in 2020.

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However, there appears to be no interest in circling back for Forbath, sources tell CBS Sports.

Zuerlein refining his boot in a still-meaningful regular season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles will be paramount for the wild card weekend that follows, but his rollercoaster season proves there is no guarantee that a great outing in any given week will generate another great one a few days later. This is all more reason for Dak Prescott and the offense to find their mojo for good, because shortened drives will put playoff games on the foot of Zuerlein more often than not and, as noted, he’ll either boom … or bust.

Obviously, scoring more touchdowns is the best remedy, but another would’ve been to truly address the issue before January arrived, even if that meant having a quality kicker at the ready on the practice squad — something it’s not too late to do, until it is.



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Austin Riley, Michael Harris II lead Braves' new youth movement

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In addition to Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies, the Braves are winning because of a new crop of homegrown talent, writes Pedro Moura.



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The 49ers Are Dealing With Injuries To 2 Key Players

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(Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

 

The San Francisco 49ers had a fairly auspicious start to their preseason schedule on Friday, as they defeated the Green Bay Packers, 28-21.

The contest was notable for it being Trey Lance‘s first as the team’s full-time starter at quarterback, and he didn’t disappoint.

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But injuries are a part of the NFL, especially during the preseason, when players aren’t quite in top shape yet, and the 49ers are no exception to that rule.

The team is currently dealing with injuries to two of its key contributors, and it could impact what happens the rest of the preseason and even its plans for Week 1 of the regular season.

 

Jimmie Ward

Jimmie Ward has been San Francisco’s starting free safety for the past several seasons, and while he hasn’t made the Pro Bowl in his eight pro seasons, he is an important part of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s defense.

On Monday, he suffered a hamstring injury during a team practice, and it wasn’t a minor strain.

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It is significant enough to keep him out of the rest of preseason, and he may even miss the regular season opener versus the Chicago Bears.

This could be something of a blow to the Niners’ Super Bowl hopes, depending on how long he is out, especially since hamstring injuries can be tricky to predict.

Ward has gradually improved over the years, and he was just named to the NFL’s Top 100 list for the first time.

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Ward isn’t the only player on the defensive unit who is dealing with a hamstring ailment, as cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley and Charvarius Ward are also dealing with bad hamstrings.

The 49ers secondary was tabbed as something that needed improvement after last season ended, but now it is looking very thin.

They’ve always been a team that has won with defense, going back to nearly a decade ago when Colin Kaepernick was under center and Patrick Willis was leading things on the other side of the football, but they must get healthy in order to get off to a good start this year.

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Elijah Mitchell

Along with a hard-nosed defense, the other part of the Niners’ winning formula in recent years has been their running game.

Last season, rookie Elijah Mitchell emerged as their RB1, as he posted 963 yards and five touchdowns despite missing six games because of multiple injuries.

With Lance only starting to get his feet wet as a full-time QB1, Shanahan is expected to continue to lean on the running game, at least until Lance becomes comfortable and reliable with making successful passes beyond 10-15 yards.

But Mitchell, just like several others, has a bad hamstring.

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The good news is that he is expected to be ready for Week 1.

In his absence, Trey Sermon, Jeff Wilson Jr. and Tyrion David-Price, among others, will have to pick up the slack.

Of course, Lance will also help, as he is quite capable of gaining yardage himself with his legs.

The post The 49ers Are Dealing With Injuries To 2 Key Players appeared first on The Cold Wire.

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Fantasy Football Rankings 2022: Busts from accomplished model that called Julio Jones’ disappointing season

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Owners know drafting one of the 2022 Fantasy football busts who doesn’t live up to expectations can be detrimental to their championship dreams. For instance, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson had thrown for at least 26 touchdowns while rushing for over 1,000 yards in 2019 and 2020, and owners drafted Baltimore’s dual-threat quarterback in hopes he’d produce similar results. Unfortunately for anyone who took a chance on Jackson, he failed to live up to the hype in 2021. In fact, Jackson was one of the biggest Fantasy football busts last season, finishing with just 16 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.

In order to avoid Fantasy football busts 2022 who can derail your entire season, you’ll need a set of 2022 Fantasy football rankings you can trust. As you begin your 2022 Fantasy football draft prep, be sure to check out the 2022 Fantasy football cheat sheets from the proven computer model at SportsLine.

Last year, SportsLine’s model accurately predicted that Titans wide receiver Julio Jones was being dramatically overvalued. He was being drafted around in the fifth round on average, but SportsLine predicted he wasn’t even close to being one of the top 20 wide receivers. Jones wound up turning in an incredibly disappointing stat line, catching 31 passes for 434 yards and one touchdown. 

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The same model has a proven track record providing Fantasy football tips, also identifying A.J. Brown as a sleeper in 2020 and JuJu Smith-Schuster as Fantasy football bust last season. It also nailed Jonathan Taylor’s big season and was all over Jaylen Waddle to outperform his Fantasy football ADP. Additionally, it’s called past Fantasy football sleepers like Derrick Henry in 2019, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara in 2018, and Davante Adams in 2017. Anybody who banked on players like those made a run at their league title.

The model is powered by the same people who generated projections for all three major Fantasy sites, and it beat human experts last season when there was a big difference in ranking. The projections update multiple times daily, so you’re always getting the best Fantasy football advice.

Now, SportsLine has simulated the entire NFL season 10,000 times and released its latest Fantasy football rankings 2022, along with plenty of sleepers, breakouts and busts. Head to SportsLine now to see them

Top 2022 Fantasy football busts

One of the 2022 Fantasy football busts the model is predicting: Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard. With the departure of Davante Adams in the offseason, Lazard’s role as a pass-catcher is expected to expand in Green Bay’s offense.

However, Lazard has never eclipsed 40 receptions in a season, one of the main reasons why the model doesn’t believe he’ll live up to his 10th-round 2022 Fantasy football ADP. In addition, the Packers made numerous moves during the offseason to bolster their pass-catching depth, most notably free-agent acquisition Sammy Watkins and 2022 second-round pick Christian Watson. That’s why the model ranks Lazard behind fellow wideouts like DeVante Parker, Rashod Bateman and K.J. Osborn, who are going at least two rounds later on average.

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Another bust that SportsLine’s Fantasy football rankings 2022 have identified: Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. He has been one of the most consistent wideouts for a number of years, eclipsing 1,100 receiving yards in four of his last five seasons. However, Hopkins will miss the first six games of the 2022 NFL season due to a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Hopkins failed to eclipse 100 receiving yards in a game once last year and only topped 70 yards twice. The Cardinals also added Marquise Brown, who had the 13th-highest target share in 2021, from the Ravens this offseason. Hopkins will have to contend with Brown, Zach Ertz, A.J. Green, and Rondale Moore for quarterback Kyler Murray’s attention when he returns from suspension. That’s one of the main reasons why the model ranks Hopkins behind fellow wideouts like Chase Claypool, Russell Gage and Robert Woods, all of whom are being drafted at least two rounds later on average. See which other Fantasy football busts 2022 to avoid here.

How to find proven 2022 Fantasy football rankings

SportsLine is also extremely low on a running back coming off the board in the third or fourth round on average of 2022 Fantasy football drafts. The model ranks him outside its top 24 running backs for 2022 and expects him to see major regression after a breakout season in 2021. You can only see who it is, and the 2022 Fantasy football rankings for every player, at SportsLine.

So which 2022 Fantasy Football breakouts should you be targeting? And which RB will fail to live up to expectations in 2022? Visit SportsLine now to get 2022 Fantasy Football cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that told you to avoid Julio Jones in 2021, and find out.

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