The 2015 NFL season was a challenging one for the Dallas Cowboys. With injuries to key contributors, the Cowboys finished 4-12 and struggled on both offense and defense. Special teams, though, and in particular, the work done by kicker Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey, was a different story. Bailey tied New York Giants kicker Josh Brown for the league lead with 93.8% accuracy on field goals. Was this a result of a plethora of chip shots, or is Bailey really this good? Chuck Zodda takes you inside the numbers and video to break down Bailey.
Bailey, like the majority of NFL kickers, was undrafted coming out of college. Despite having only one season at Oklahoma State in which he made greater than 80% of his field goals, Bailey was invited to Dallas camp in 2011 and promptly earned the starting job. He has had a stranglehold on the position ever since.
Bailey was 32-for-37 as a rookie, good for 86.5%. While he briefly dipped under this mark during his fourth season, going 25-for-29 (86.2%) in 2014, his other three seasons have all seen accuracy above 93% for the young placekicker. And despite the NFL moving to 33-yard extra points in 2015, Bailey remained perfect on extra points in his NFL career, moving to 204-for-204 over his five-year stint as the Cowboys kicker. Moreover, Bailey’s 38.14-yard average distance is more than half a yard above the NFL average during this time, and his 90.6% accuracy on field goals is tops in the league, besting New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski by one percent.
In short, Bailey and Gostkowski are the top two kickers in the NFL, and with Bailey’s average kick being more than a full yard longer than Gostkowski over this time, one could make the argument that Bailey, not the more-celebrated Gostkowski, is at the top of the heap for NFL kickers.
What is it that makes Bailey so effective? Let’s look.
Facing the Patriots in 2015, Bailey lines up for a 51-yard attempt from the left hash:
With the ball on the left hash, Bailey aligns with the center stanchion, taking a slight angle to maintain a proper orientation to the target. Though his holder has his hand on the inside of the hash, Bailey steps back towards the center of the hash instead to properly line up, directly pointing at the center upright.
After taking his three steps back, Bailey then makes a perfect right angle as he steps to his left, squaring off his approach:
The ball comes back to the holder and Bailey starts his approach with a small jab step with his left foot:
Bailey’s jab step is shorter than that of many other kickers, as he seems to pick his foot up and put it down in nearly the same spot, as opposed to the bigger jab steps other kickers employ. This keeps his motion slightly cleaner, with fewer moving parts as he heads for the ball:
Just prior to impact, Bailey is in textbook position. His left foot is planted and aiming directly at the target, with his hips square to the uprights as well. His head is down and focused on making contact with the ball, with everything flowing dead-center as his leg whips through.
Just after contact, Bailey takes a small skip-step to finish his follow-through:
Bailey’s skip-step is nearly identical to the one from Gostkowski that we examined last year. Indeed, the two best kickers in the league have nearly-identical form, with Bailey having a slightly flatter swing plane and wider approach, but very similar mechanics to Gostkowski.
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As with Gostkowski, Bailey’s key to his success is the repeatability of his mechanics. Later in the 2015 season, Bailey has a 52-yard attempt against the Seattle Seahawks from the right hash:
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Nearly everything remains identical, from the initial alignment targeting the center upright, the small jab-step, and the perfectly-aligned plant foot. But the follow-through in this video demonstrates the perfection of Bailey’s mechanics, as he is run into by Cary Williams off the edge. Bailey finishes his motion, absorbs the impact from Williams, and not only stays upright, but maintains his balance so well that he barely moves.
This is what you want to see from a kicker after their strike. It shows a strong base, with a stable center of gravity that he can use to create power in an accurate fashion. It is indicative of a motion that is smooth, stable, and strong, and it is because of that motion that Bailey has excelled over the first five years of his career, and should continue to do so for many more.
Follow @ITP_ChuckZ on Twitter. Check out his other work here, an unlikely Super Bowl MVP, an under-appreciated great NFL kicker, and his inquiry into the mechanics of why Dan Carpenter keeps missing FGs.
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All images courtesy of NFL Game Pass.