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 altering moments, extra point mishaps, and a tip our cap to the top performers.
After a 3-and-out to open the game for the Seattle offense, the Seahawks lined up in punt formation. The 49ers were playing a double vice alignment with 6 men in the box, 3 on each side of the center (3 x 3 alignment). The Seahawks aligned with running back Travis Homer as the personal protector offset to the left of the snapper. The issue as this play progresses from the 49ers ST unit is their 6-man box features all 6 players being hand in the dirt down lineman.
The ball is directly snapped to the personal protector as he takes it along the left side of the LOS and all the way for a TD. With no stand-up defenders to ensure the snap goes all the way back to the punter, they are late on their recognition, which allows the ball carrier to circle the return unit.
The left side of the Seahawk punt team, led by excellent blocks from RB Deejay Dallas at the Left Wing position as well as the Army football alum LT Jon Rhattigan (#BeatNavy), paved the way. The gunners on both sides of the play outside release, which presses the defensive player to the boundary (outside), allowing Homer free access up the hash. This fake by the Seahawks resulted in the longest punt rush for a TD in the last 30 years.
Denver ST Woes Continue
This past Sunday, the Broncos met the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium for an AFC West battle. In a 13-3 game, the Chief went back to punt as the ball traveled 47 yards in the air where Diontae Spencer stood to receive the punt.
On the punt return, the first-year safety out of Texas, Cade Sterns, was actively blocking for Spencer as the ball approached the catch point. While Sterns is actively blocking in front of the returner, he loses his situational awareness while Chiefs’ gunner, Bryon Pringle, intelligently pushes the unaware Sterns into the returner. This action caused Spencer to muff the punt late in the 3rd quarter in a tight divisional game on the road.
Currently holding the 29th position in DVOA Special Teams rankings, negative plays similar to this have hampered the Denver Special Teams unit throughout the year. As the calendar turns to December it will be interesting to see how this unit’s performance down the stretch will impact the Broncos’ playoff hopes.
Extra Point Mishaps
As mentioned in previous articles, there has been a real problem in the special teams realm this season with the XP conversation rate. On the year, the NFL is converting extra point kicks at a 93% rate.
In Week 13 specifically, the NFL only made 85% of their extra point attempts, the second lowest percentage made this season after Week 5 (83%). Looking back at each year since 2013, this week was the 3rd worst XP kicking week in that range, with 81% in Week 11 of 2016 being the worst.
Kotwica’s Clutch Kicks
Credit to WFT K Brian Johnson
- Late in the 4th quarter after the Washington Football Team drove down the field, Brian Johnson lined up for a 48-yard FG with 42 seconds left in a 15-14 game against the Raiders. Despite all of the WFT kicking woes this year, Johnson won them the game by nailing the kick.
Credit to Patriots K Nick Folk
- In 36-degree weather, the Buffalo Bills faced off in a Monday night game against the New England Patriots. There were 27 MPH winds with 40 MPH wind gusts. Folk nailed a 41-yard FG and a 34-yard FG with the wind at his back. Major credit to Nick Folk in general for his success. He has not missed from under 40 yards all season. He has spent 14 years in the NFL, while taking a gap year in 2018. Prior to the last two seasons, his best year was in 2013, when I coached him, connecting on 33 of 36 FGs and 3 of 3 from 50-plus. Since the Jets cut him in 2016, they have cycled through 9 kickers (per Rich Cimini).