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Sport 'Cowboys fans aren't the play-it-safe type': John Fassel explains aggressive punt rush that produced penalty

04:55  21 september  2021
04:55  21 september  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

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FRISCO, Texas — John Fassel is well aware the play failed.

But the Dallas Cowboys special teams coordinator expressed no regret for calling an unusually-timed punt rush against the Los Angeles Chargers.

“The thought process was, I think Cowboys fans aren’t the play-it-safe type so I was going to give them what they wanted,” Fassel said Monday after he’d had the chance to watch film from Dallas’ 20-17 victory. “Come after their ass on punt rush. So I hope they’re happy with it. We came after them.”

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The Chargers faced fourth-and-20 on their 46-yard line when the 2-minute warning signaled halftime was near. Los Angeles punter Ty Long and his punt protection teammates took the field. The Cowboys' special teams unit lined up opposite them. As Long began to wind up his kick, Cowboys receiver Cedrick Wilson lunged from the line’s right and defensive end Tarell Basham raised his arms to lengthen his frame up the middle. Defensive end Azur Kamara, making his NFL debut, swarmed from left end. Kamara tangled with Chargers linebacker Kyzir White, with White dragging him down as Kamara hit Long.

a man holding a baseball bat: Dallas Cowboys special teams coordinator John Fassel explained why the team was so aggressive rushing a punt late in the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers. © Matthew Emmons, USA TODAY Sports Dallas Cowboys special teams coordinator John Fassel explained why the team was so aggressive rushing a punt late in the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers.

An officiating crew who waved 20 flags throughout the day penalized Kamara for roughing the kicker.

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CBS lead color analyst and former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo joked about the Chargers’ good fortune.

“It’s almost like, ‘Hey, I want you to barely get this off and get the penalty for us,’ ” Romo said. “Take the beating. It’ll help the team.”

Fassel defended his decision, citing a Week 1 punt the Steelers blocked in the fourth quarter against the Bills. A pair of Steelers special teams players tag-teamed a 23-yard return to extend their lead to 20-10 in that game. Pittsburgh ultimately won 23-16.

“Anytime you rush the punt, there’s a risk,” Fassel said. “Last week Pittsburgh was up by three points in the fourth quarter, they rushed the punt, blocked it and ran it in for a touchdown. The reward is high, the risk is high.”

Fassel said he doesn’t worry about potential roughing-the-kicker penalty situations, nor does he believe Kamara’s pursuit merited the call. The Cowboys submitted tape to the league for further review.

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“I’m still not so sure that we actually roughed him,” Fassel said. “We could go to the tape, sit down and watch. Tell me if it’s roughing. I’m biased but I think the TV copy shows a pretty good copy of something else. … It was a train wreck at the block spot. But what I got on film was their number 40 hooked Kamara and pulled him back into the punter.

“You can make a great case it was holding or that the punter hit his own blocker.”

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The punt rush, with possession at stake and the Cowboys clinging to a tenuous three-point lead nearing halftime, wasn’t out of the ordinary for a special teams coach who is keen on gambling. Fassel said the play was his decision, not head coach Mike McCarthy’s. Is McCarthy comfortable with the risk?

“I would say yes, with an asterisk,” Fassel said. “I think he was OK with us following the game plan and coming after them. Probably upset that we roughed them. Or that they called roughing.”

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Ultimately, the Cowboys escaped the drive unscathed as Los Angeles kicker Tristan Vizcaino missed a 44-yard field goal attempt 7 seconds before halftime. Dallas’ special teams unit flashed its value further when Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein made a game-winning 56-yard field goal as time expired.

Expect Fassel to continue game-planning risks, even if head coaches like McCarthy have at times lit into him for liberal game plans. How often has his head coach asked him what the heck he was thinking?

“Oh, a lot,” Fassel said. “I’ve also had a head coach jump on my neck and punch me in the gut and say ‘hell of a job’ when we blocked it. … Part of our game plan was to come after them with a real aggressive mindset.

“Give the Cowboys fans something they’re looking for.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Cowboys fans aren't the play-it-safe type': John Fassel explains aggressive punt rush that produced penalty

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usr: 1
This is interesting!