Hey guys, DanRoc here with a new article series.
What I'm going to try to do this season is break down all the special teams plays for you guys, in wonderful, graphical detail. In case you didn't know, I was a huge fan of the special teams position battles this season, going back to the day John Potter was drafted and I got to see his monster leg on Youtube. I've been interested in getting more involved in both breaking down game film and seeing how special teams worked, and I think this is a good way to do both of those things.
Each week I'll do three articles. One will cover the return units, featuring Justin Rogers, Brad Smith, and Leodis McKelvin. The other will focus on the coverage units, featuring John Potter and Brian Moorman. The third will cover field goals and extra points, featuring Rian Lindell. In these articles I plan to mix statistics, pictures, sarcastic commentary, and physics to bring you an in-depth look at football's most underappreciated aspect. Let's get down to it by starting with the kickoffs!
When John Potter made the active roster this year, it was clear that his job as kickoff specialist was to get touchbacks. When he doesn't get touchbacks every time, then he isn't doing his job. All in all, it was an unspectacular but solid day for Potter. He had 4 regular kickoffs and an onside kick. 3 of the kickoffs were immediate touchbacks, while the onside kick was recovered by Tim Tebow. Let's look at each one.
This was the first kickoff and the only "real" kickoff returned. The kick wasn't as deep as you'd like Potter to kick it. While it was at least in the middle of the end zone, any team who loves making returns (like the Jets) would have no question about returning the kick.
Here is the returner, Joe McKnight, as soon as he catches the ball. He's five yards deep in the end zone. Fortunately, Buffalo coverage was strong on this play:
That blur is Corey McIntyre, streaking in from in between two Jets to grab at McKnight's ankles. Chris White is right there at the 20 to finish the tackle and bring him down at the 19 yard line.
Nothing to worry about with this kick. I couldn't even find the ball, it was kicked so deep. So here's a picture of McKnight jogging nonchalantly out of the end zone.
Another great deep kick. It's a little hard to see the ball in this one, so I circled it for you. This is right before the ball bounced. It was behind the end zone entirely.
It's important to note that on this kickoff, the Bills had just closed the gap to 41-21, and New York was expecting an onside kick. As such, they had their hands team out, and weren't in any shape to return this one:
That being said, I don't think the kick would have been returnable anyway:
From where it bounced, I believe that anybody returning it would either have a foot backing out of the end zone as they caught it (resulting in immediate touchback), or have to be very stupid to run the full ten yards out. Another nice kick from Potter.
Kickoff 5 (Onside Kick)
At the point of this kick, Buffalo had narrowed the gap to 13 with 6 minutes left. Onside kicking was definitely the right call, but the execution was not there. You can see both teams had their hands teams out for this kick:
In fact, the announcers made special mention of the fact that Tim Tebow was on the hands team. Potter came under the ball and chipped it into the air, hoping for a favorable bounce:
Unfortunately, it didn't even manage to bounce, as Tebow (of course) used his mythical powers to summon the ball to himself, making the catch safely:
It's also important to note just how clean the area around Tebow is. I'm not sure if the Jets did a really good job blocking for him or if the Bills had just given up, but nobody was able to find a gap quick enough to get near Tebow. A few latecomers tapped him on the shoulder, but the ball was his.
While the onside kick was disappointing, overall, the kickoff coverage team did their job. 3 touchbacks, a 4th kickoff returned to the 19. John Potter's stats look poor if you check the (normally very helpful) NFL.com kickoff database, but that's because they factor in his onside kick as if it were a regular kickoff. I give credit to Potter for getting 3/4 touchbacks, although after the hype from training camp the one 70 yard kickoff was disappointing. I also am pleased that the coverage team was efficient on the only returned kickoff. The majority of the lost points from this grade come from the lousy job on that onside kick - even though the Jets knew it was coming, you'd like to see a bit more of a scrum for the ball.
Imgur Album for pictures: http://imgur.com/a/BERXW
With punts, what I plan to do is not only talk about the coverage, but also statistically analyze the trajectory of each punt, to try and find a trend or pattern in the punter's performance. Since we already know that things like Gross Punting Average are ultimately meaningless when measuring how good a punter is, this may help reveal the punter's worth in a different way. The stats I'm looking at are: Hangtime (measured by hand), Distances (Downfield and Acrossfield), and Trajectory (kicking angle, and possibly touch on punts near the opponent end zone).
Actually, there are very few punts to cover in this one, because of Buffalo's offensive drive ends:
3. Punt return for TD
5. Lost fumble
7. Interception (returned for TD)
12. End of game
Wow that was depressing. That's the last we need to speak of that performance. Anyways, 2 punts we had to cover Sunday. Unfortunately, 50% were returned for touchdowns. Not good. Let's find out whose fault it is!
Punt 1 (The TD)
Average: 3.40 seconds
Downfield: From Buf 15 to NYJ 32 = 53 yards
Acrossfield: From left hash to left hash. NO Crossdistance.
The first thing that jumps out as I review this play is the hangtime. Absolutely pitiful compared to the preseason Moorman. When you are looking at punters, an acceptable hangtime is 4 seconds, a great hangtime is at least 5 seconds. In the preseason, Moorman was constantly hitting balls in the 5 to 5.2 second range. When your ball doesn't stay up in the air, there isn't time for the blockers to set up. Further physics analysis in my spreadsheets reveal that launch angle wasn't a problem - strength was. The kick had a perfectly fine 49 degree angle to it - but there wasn't enough oomph behind it. It only went at most 45 feet into the air. Another problem was the horizontal trajectory - completely straight, from hashmark to the same hashmark. There was simply no horizontal movement.
Was there a cause for the bad punt though? It's difficult to tell from the camera angles CBS chose (and I don't think it's important enough to wait for my Coach's Film to unlock for), but the leftmost edge rusher (as viewed by the offense) came awfully close to Moorman as the punt developed - enough to make contact and cause him to stumble after the punt motion was finished (Da'Norris Searcy was supposed to be blocking him, in case you are keeping track of that sort of thing).I don't think the rusher got in the way of the punt, but it might have hurried Moorman into a bad punt.
Here you see the rusher falling towards Moorman as the kick finishes. Then as the camera switches, Moorman begins to fall:
Just want to clarify that I'm not calling for a roughing the kicker penalty. It looked like very incidental contact. But that could be a cause of the bad punt.
As the punt goes through the air, the Jets do a very good job of keeping Bills away from Jeremy Kerley. When he catches the ball and sets his feet, there is one Bill in the picture compared to three Jets:
Kerley begins his return, and it's clear that he was gifted a large amount of space to work with. He moves 5 yards downfield without coming close to a Bill:
Finally our defenders enter the picture after Kerley crosses the 40 yard line. I've labeled them so you can see just how many players screwed up almost simultaneously:
As you can see, there is serious trouble. Kerley is past one Bill already. numbers 1-4 and 7-8 all are not at an angle to tackle him - if he runs straight ahead he'll outrun them. The only hope is if 5 or 6 took a good enough angle to reach him without him running past.
From there, it was off to the races:
Brian Moorman's an athlete, but he'll never make up that distance on a kick returner (unless it's Brad Smith). TD Jets. Whose fault? Ultimately I say Moorman's - that was a really bad punt. Partial blame goes to that edge rusher who pressured Moorman during the kick.
Average: 4.52 seconds
Downfield: From Buf 0 to Buf 48 = 48 yards
Acrossfield: From left hash to left sideline. Moderate crossdistance.
Minor note here: the refs marked this one at the 48 yard line, but in the broadcast I can clearly see the ball bouncing at the 43 yard line.
In fact, the coach in the green jacket actually steps to the side to allow the ball to land, making it easy to see. I'm going to count it as a 48 yard punt in case the ball somehow traveled backwards or bounced a first time where I didn't see it, but it's a minor argument against those replacement refs.
This was a much higher punt, at a trajectory of 66 degrees - it reached a height of 81 feet. The directional placement was better on this punt too. Definitely a good trajectory.
Overall, there weren't any concerns on this punt. The coverage team was there but had nothing to do as the punt went out of bounds. The 48 yard distance was okay, but not great since it ended up being a net 37 yards when you factor in the snap point.
It's very simple. If you punt, you aren't supposed to give up a TD. If you only punt twice in a game, you are definitely not supposed to give up a TD. When your punter averages 5 seconds per punt, he's not supposed to kick a 3.4 second punt. Bad punt, bad coverage on the punt. Just giving points away to the Jets.
The only reason this wasn't an F was because of the improvement on the second punt. Even though the distance was bad, I was pleased to see Moorman doing some directional punting, and I gave him a half grade improvement.
Imgur Album for pictures: http://imgur.com/a/oq3Yj
So overall? Not a good week for special teams coverage. One can only hope that Bruce DeHaven sits his guys down for some serious practice with both onside kick recovery and punt mechanics. There's plenty of work to be done.