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Ben Kotwica’s Special Teams Report: Week 7 Block Party

Special Teams Report: Week 7

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 this weekend’s block party, Lions pushing their chips all in and a tip of our cap to the top performers.

BLOCK PARTY!

Over the last few weeks, we have reviewed a handful of punt blocks and why they occurred. This week was truly a BLOCK PARTY in the field goal world as multiple blocks took place. Let’s take a deep dive into what happened and why:

Broncos vs Browns

The BLOCK PARTY began early this week, as on Thursday night, the Denver Broncos got it started with a Field Goal block against the Cleveland Browns just before half. With 1:56 left on the clock in the second quarter, the Browns lined up for a 41-yard FG with veteran K Chase McLaughlin. The Broncos got great penetration off the snap using the “buster” technique on the Browns right guard. Both #96 Shelby Harris and #98 Mike Purcell created a strong push up the middle by dropping their shade side shoulders (shoulders across from the guard) to create a “V” or wedge underneath the guard’s pads to drive him back. This internal push greatly decreased the defender’s distance to the block point, as #96 Harris was able to get his inside hand up to block the kick. 

Washington Football Team vs Packers

With 11 minutes left in the 2nd quarter in a 7-7 game, the Washington Football Team lined up to kick a 42-yard field goal from their left hash with newly acquired K Chris Blewitt. The Packers, with a heavy set to the field side, with 6 defenders to left and 4 to the right, got a strong push over the WFT’s right guard (similar to the Denver block). 

While the strong A gap push from Packers’ 6-foot-4 rookie NT TJ Slaton was a factor in the block, the primary reason was the kick’s low trajectory from Blewitt. After the block, Green Bay took over at the 32-yard line as they drove down the field and lined up for a FG themselves on the ensuing possession. 

Washington did not want to get left out of the block party in Green Bay, as Packers K Mason Crosby lined up for a 34-yard FG on the ensuing drive. Washington responded with a block of their own as DT Tim Settle blocked Crosby’s kick from the 16 yard line. This time, Green Bay’s right guard, #76 Jon Runyan was driven back due to his high pad level by #97 Settle and #94 Payne. The Packers blocked Field Goal was the first time that they had a blocked kick since October 11th, 2015, Coincidentally, all three blocks listed above attacked the interior element of the field goal protection, specifically the right guards. 

Falcons vs Dolphins

With 10:23 left in the 2nd quarter, Dolphins K Jason Sanders lined up for a 49-yard field goal. Like most teams, the Falcons set their rush side to the field with a plan to attack the Dolphins’ C gap. On the snap, Miami Right Tackle #73 Jackson lunged forward to engage #90 Marlon Davidson from the Falcons. However, as will often happen when an offensive lineman has been “bludgeoned” repeatedly by two defensive linemen with the “Buster” technique described above, this pressure forced the Tackle to defend himself by staying extremely low and lunging out to meet force with force. This lunge is exacerbated by #90 Davidson’s “Deke” move, where he fakes a rush and bails back so that the blocker will fall forward and open up a gap in the protection. In addition, the Miami Right End turns out in response to a wide 3 alignment from the Falcons and the savvy veteran #55 Steven Means captures his inside shoulder to widen the hole. These factors created a seam in the protection, as Atlanta’s LB Adetokunbo Ogundeji used a swim technique in the vulnerable C gap to go untouched through the LOS for a clean field goal block.

Lions Push Their Chips All In

As General George S. Patton once said, “Success in war depends on SPEED, SIMPLICITY and BOLDNESS,” which was personified on Sunday by the Detroit Lions Special Forces unit and their experienced Special Teams Coordinator Dave Fipp against the LA Rams. As the Lions went up 7-0 on their first possession after a D’Andre Swift touchdown run, the Lions decided to capitalize on their momentum. The bold special teams coordinator called for a surprise onside kick that was executed to perfection. 

Lions K Austin Seibert out of Oklahoma perfectly placed the onside kick to the Lions’ right against the Rams’ 5-man front and 3 rover formation, who were positioned 14 and 24 yards from the ball, respectively. Seibert’s target was the Rams LB #51 Troy Reeder, as the ball was delivered in his direction and took an uncanny high second hop, going past Reeder’s left earhole. This bounce allowed the Lions #21 Tracy Walker, who initially aligned in the R1 spot, to recover the ball. 

The Lions momentum was quickly subdued with a three-and-out by their offense. However, this allowed the Lions Special Forces the opportunity to strike again. Dan Campbell and Coach Fipp put a ton of chips on the table with a fake punt on 4th-and-5 from midfield. On this play, the left side gunner #27 S Bobby Price and punter Jack Fox seized the opportunity. While it appears that the Rams came out in an 8-man box safe look with 6 down linemen and 2 stand up backers, the speed and simplicity of Fox’s throw out to Price at the first down marker was very difficult for the Rams press corner #33 Scott to defend. 

At the snap, Bobby Price runs a comeback route at the sticks with Nick Scott, 3rd year safety out of Penn State playing press coverage. Price runs the sticks comeback route to perfection and the precise throw from Fox allows the Lions to convert the first down and sustain the drive. This was Fox’s first NFL career pass and may not be his last. 

Lions Attack Mentality

In the 3rd quarter with 10 minutes left on a 4th-and-8 from the Detroit 35, Coach Campbell and Fipp decided to continue the Special Forces attack. While in punt formation, Coach Fipp decided to put the ball in the hands of his personal protector #38 CJ Moore out of Ole Miss. On this play, the Lions speed of execution and simplicity of an outside zone scheme to the short edge of undermanned the Rams punt return unit led to a 28-yard gain and first down. 

On this play, the Rams made a critical error of having only 10 defenders on the field, aligning 6 players in the box (5 down / 1 up), a corner on each side of the ball and 2 deep returners. This oversight allowed the left side of the Lions punt team to scoop and capture the edge of the Rams punt return front for a 28-yard gain and first down. These 3 impactful special teams plays allowed the Lions to go toe to toe with the Rams last Sunday and show how simple and bold plays executed with details and speed can produce game changing results.

Kotwica’s Clutch Kicks

Credit to Falcons K Younghoe Koo

  • The Falcons marched down the field and left 3 seconds on the clock for K Younghoe Koo to attempt a 33-yard FG for the win over the Dolphins in Miami. With this clutch kick, Koo continues his Pro Bowl performance from a season ago.

Credit to Saints K Brian Johnson

  • The Saints have been spinning in the kicker carousel for the entire season with their long-time trusted kicker Will Lutz on IR. Lutz was officially marked as out for the entire season as he had a setback in his return. In addition, recent acquisition Cody Parkey was placed on IR as well. Last week, the Saints signed Brian Johnson, a rookie out of Virginia Tech, off the Chicago Bears practice squad. Johnson had never kicked in an NFL game before this past weekend. At Tech, Johnson holds the record for most consecutive XP’s made with 119. Credit to Johnson for kicking in rough conditions in Seattle and sealing the win on a 33-yard FG with 2 minutes left in the 4th quarter.

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