Having worked in the NFL for 15 years in the special teams realm, each week we will discuss the most impactful moments from in the kicking, punting or return game. Often special teams can be overlooked, but the critical nature of a reliable and effective special teams unit cannot be overstated.
This week, we will take a closer look into game-changing returns for TDs, an epic fake punt and the clutch kick of the week.
Returns for Touchdowns
Let’s first start by taking you to Minnesota, where the Vikings hosted the Rams in a key NFC matchup with playoff implications on the line. It’s 4th and 1 on the Min 20 yard line as they line up to deliver the ball to the Rams special teams unit down 13-10. The Rams line up in an 8 box structure with two stand up safeties lined up on the 25 and single corners on the outside gunners. As the Vikings punter Jordan Berry delivers the ball, he sees pressure from the right side, which forces Berry to get off a low line drive punt to the return man Brandon Powell. Powell fields the punt cleanly and runs toward the Rams’ bench side as the team sets up a wall. Often in safe alignments on punt returns, the wall is set up to the return team’s bench. The Rams execute two fly by blocks by #56 and #32. These cut Powell loose and with the block of Hopkins, the rams speedy return man Brandon Powell is able to take it to the house.
Back to New York to check in on the Pro Bowl snub return man, Braxton Berrios in the start of the 2nd quarter. The Jets, hosting the Jaguars at MetLife Stadium, are set to receive. The Jets return team sets up a double-double scheme in which they take their left guard and left center to double L3 while using their left tackle and the right center to double the L5. This creates the seam for Berrios to run through. Berrios explodes up the field and is able to take advantage of the seam. This burst along with the inability of Jacksonville’s backside coverage element to get over the top of the blockers to the flow side contribute to the Jets’ big special teams play which helps propel them to victory.
Lions Fake Punt
With the Lions punter Jack Fox lined up to punt in this NFC matchup in Atlanta, the Lions decide to create trickery with a fake punt attempt. Late in the second quarter, the Falcons lined up in an 8 man box — a 6 down, 2 up structure — with the safeties set to watch the wings. Much like on offense, one of the hardest plays to stop is the back shoulder sticks route as KhaDarel Hodge lined up against the Atlanta rookie Avery Williams. Hodge was able to create separation and make the play for the first down, setting up the first score for the Lions.
Kotwica’s Clutch Kick
- Credit to Titans Kicker Randy Bullock
With the 10-0 lead at halftime, the Titans came out of the second half strong and eventually found themselves in a tied game with 2 minutes left. They drove down the field and were able to place the ball on 4th down on the SF 26 yard line. Randy Bullock, the veteran kicker, lined up for the 44-yard FG and converted with 9 seconds left on the clock to win a crucial playoff spot battle between two premiere teams.