Statistically speaking, Dallas Cowboys punter Chris Jones has had better seasons than the one he is in the middle of right now.
He is 29th in punting average at 43.9 yards. He is 19th in net average.
Statistics don’t tell the full story.
Of Jones’ 20 punts, 12 have been inside the 20. He has just one touchback and that’s because Xavier Woods failed to down a punt inside the Denver Broncos 5 in Week 2.
Jones is making the opponent drive the field with how well he is punting. Unfortunately the Cowboys’ defense is not doing its part. The last three times Jones has pinned opponents at their 12 or worse, the Cowboys have allowed two touchdowns and a field goal with the teams driving 88, 90 and 78 yards.
In the Cowboys’ season-opening win against the New York Giants, he pinned the Giants inside their 10 on four punts.
“Once you kind of get to the midfield area you’re pushing for inside the 20 with no touchbacks,” Jones said. “That’s a perfect world. I think the main thing is just understanding that the 14 is better than kicking a touchback and them being at the 20 or get one at the 20 with a fair catch instead of saying, ‘OK, let’s try to put it at the 1.’”
When Jones came to the Cowboys in 2011 as a rookie free agent, he was able to watch Pro Bowler Mat McBriar. Jones did not become the Cowboys’ full-time punter until 2013, but in watching McBriar over two offseasons and training camps he was able to learn the flip-flop punt. McBriar’s background with Australian Rules Football made it a natural kick. Jones had to learn it from scratch.
“He was awesome at it,” Jones said. “He would drop it in a bucket, but I didn’t have any background with it ever. In college it was like you’d hit a little nose up, coffin corner type stuff. The more I worked with that (flip flop) I kind of understood that I could only kick it so far and place it well.”
It took Jones a couple of years to feel confident enough to use it in a game. Like a golfer with multiple wedges, he has learned how to hold the ball in a certain way that he can almost dictate the hang time and distance.
“If it’s more straight up and down, the more it’s going to spin but the less distance I’m going to get,” Jones said. “If I hold it a little lower, lay the ball back, it’s going to be more of an outward drive. Yeah, I’ve had to learn that and kind of figure it out.”
Jones came to the Cowboys with a strong left leg, but he learned quickly his job is not about only how far he can hit the ball. His directional work, as well as his flip-flop kicks, has played the biggest part in the Cowboys allowing only 5.6 yards per return.
He admits he has thoughts of the long ball, but they are fleeting.
“In this league it will get you in trouble. It has the potential to anyways,” said Jones, who signed a four-year extension with the Cowboys over the summer. “Just over the years, the scheme that we have, I just feel comfortable in it and (the flip flop) has kind of become my bread and butter now.”