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Kotwica's Week 11 Special Teams Report: Kicking Will Play a Huge Part in Playoff Race

Ben Kotwica's Week 11 Special Teams Report

Having worked in the NFL for 15 years in the special teams realm as an assistant and as a Coordinator, each week we will discuss the most impactful moments from the kicking game. While special teams can be overlooked at times, the critical nature of a reliable and effective special teams unit cannot be overstated.

This week, we will take a closer look at the week’s impactful plays, tip our cap to the top performers, AND take a deep dive into kicking success rate.

Steelers ST Shines Against the Struggling Chargers Unit

After highlighting the teams with strong and weak special teams units last week, this fact came to life with about 12 minutes to go in the Sunday Night battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the LA Chargers.  With the Steelers down by two scores, 27-13, the Chargers lined up to punt from their 32 yard line. The Steelers initially aligned in a 7 box structure with 4 rushers to the Chargers’ left and 3 rushers to their right.

As the Chargers got ready to snap the ball, the Steelers “creeped” in their safety to create a 5 man surface to the Chargers’ left side. In this configuration, the Steelers spiked the R3 into the A gap and followed with a double wrap from the load side.

This movement caused confusion with the Chargers’ internal protection and the design was very similar to the one we broke down a few weeks back when the Steelers blocked a punt on the Buffalo Bills. As you look deeper into this play, the Chargers personal protector, Nick Niemann, was not able to rotate his eyes to the rush side and pick up one of the two wrapping defenders.

This play sparked a comeback for the Steelers as they scored on this drive and 8 minutes later took the lead 37-34 with a Chris Boswell 45 yard FG. While the Chargers were able to come back and get the win with their dynamic offense and excellent young Quarterback in Justin Herbert, the Steelers punt block made this one a lot closer than it should have been. 

Ben Kotwica's Week 11 Special Teams Report

Kotwica’s Clutch Kick

Credit to Vikings K Greg Joseph

  • Greg Joseph hit a 29-yard FG for a huge divisional win for the Vikings over the Packers. Joseph has struggled this season, missing 4 total FGs and 2 XPs, but he has been locked in on his FGs the past 4 weeks, going 8-for-8 while also connecting on 13 of his 14 XPs. If the Vikings want to make a run for the playoffs, they will need Joseph to be reliable and continue his clutch kicking.

FG and XP Kicking Analysis

There has been a lot of discussion this season on the high rate of missed kicks (FGs and XPs) and why each week it appears that more and more kickers are missing. While it is difficult to pinpoint one clear reason for the higher percentage of misses, the numbers do back it up.

When comparing 11 games through the 2021 season to the first 11 games of the past 5 seasons, here's how the numbers shake out:

  • Field Goals have been made at the second lowest rate over the past 5 years (82.75%), only behind the historically poor kicking year of 2019
  • Likewise, when looking at Extra Points, 2021 has had the lowest rate of makes over the past 5 seasons (93%)

When looking at the total percentage of misses (XP misses + FG missed / total attempts) within this range, the 2021 season is second worst behind, once again, 2019.

Ben Kotwica's Week 11 Special Teams Report

In conclusion, as the weather turns colder and the winds begin to pick up, it is hard to envision a vast improvement in kicking performance down the stretch. When the NFL moved the PAT ball placement back to the 15 yard line to create a 33-yard attempt, it appears that in 2021 the league has reached their intended results to make the PAT a more competitive play.

With the competition for the 7 playoff spots in each conference heating up, it is not hard to envision that the kicking game will play a huge part in deciding which teams get in and which are left out in the cold.