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Will special teams doom the Redskins?

Nov 12, 2013, 10:18 AM EDT

Rocca-blocks-punt-Oak

As anyone who has been even a casual observer of the team this year could tell you, Redskins special teams are not very good. But are they historically bad? One analyst believes they are in the running to be the worst special teams unit ever.

Mike Tanier writes about the NFL for Sports on Earth and he is one of the authors of the annual Football Outsiders Almanac.

In a recent post Tanier states the following.

The Redskins special teams are awful. In fact, they are on pace to be the worst ever. That’s not internet hyperbole, it’s science: Football Outsiders ranks the Redskins special teams as the third worst of the last 20 years. And they’re just a few punt return touchdowns or blocked field goals away from being historically terrible.

Their sins include two blocked field goals, a blocked punt, two punts returned for touchdowns, an NFL-low average of 60.1 yards per kickoff, and a return game that is among the worst in the NFL.

Not included in the statistical mix is possibly the Redskins most embarrassing special teams moment since Jim Zorn’s Swinging Gate fake field goal. Against the Vikings, half of the team knew that punter Sav Rocca was going to throw a pass on a fake punt and the other half, including intended receiver Niles Paul, didn’t know that the fake was on. Fortunately, the whole fiasco ended before it officially started due to a pre-snap motion penalty against the Redskins.

Throw it all together and, according to Football Outsiders, you have special teams that are 14.3 percent below average compared to the rest of the league. Only the 2008 Vikings and the 2010 Chargers have been that far below average for a full season.

But the news isn’t all bleak. Tanier noted that special teams tend to improve as the season goes on. This is usually due to more attention being paid to them by the coaching staff, personnel changes and work on specific techniques (such as Kai Forbath working on the height of his field goal attempts).

Also, historically bad special teams do not necessarily doom a team to an unsuccessful season. The three worst units over a full season—the above-mentioned ’08 Vikings and ’10 Chargers plus the 1995 Eagles—were all teams with winning records on the season.

It’s not as though this Redskins team is strong enough in other areas to compensate for historically bad special teams play. But if things do get better—and we’re still waiting for our first game in the last six without a costly and/or comical special teams gaffe—perhaps the kicking game can become an asset to the Redskins. Or, perhaps, at least not a hindrance.

  1. manchild157 - Nov 13, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    Uggghhh…knew it was bad but this is historically bad. Rich, I don’t know what your take is but when you return most of the players from last year but bring in a new coach it seems the blame has to go on the one who is teaching the players. But what confuses me is he worked for 6 years in Denver in different capacities of coaching special teams without getting fired. What gives?

    • Rich Tandler - Nov 13, 2013 at 1:02 PM

      They weren’t great with Danny. I don’t think that this team puts much of an emphasis on ST’s in terms of personnel. Backup WR’s, RB’s should be part of the teams; they play very few snaps. Like Nick Barnett but he plays very few ST snaps, a backup LB should play all special teams.

      • manchild157 - Nov 13, 2013 at 4:00 PM

        Right, ST’s weren’t a force with Danny Smith. Seems the lack of attention has caught up with Coach Shanahan. He doesn’t appear flexible in thinking so who knows how or when this will be fixed. I’m thinking a historically bad ST could invoke a him to rethink the priorities in this area. If we end up with a bad record this year, coupled with player’s contacts up this year, there will be alot of holes that need to be filled….ST’s will be partially ignored again I suppose.

  2. kenlinkins - Nov 13, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    I am not buying the “it is all Keith Burns fault” theory that some Redskins fans believe. I think most of the problem is we have too many players that feel that they are starters and not Special teams players. When you have 4 TE’s, 5 WR’s, 6 DL, 6 LB’s, 3 RB and 7 DB’s who all see themselves as starters, that leaves a very small pool to find real play makers on coverage and return teams. There doesn’t seem to be many guys who owe their pay checks to how they do on Special Teams. Also, after signing a $17 million contract with Kory L maybe there was not any money to find a real Special Teams leader. I am not letting Keith Burns off the hook, but I do wonder if he has the players with the skill and mind set to get the job done. With Nick Williams joining the 53 man roster, maybe he can light a fire under these guys as he must know being the 6th WR on the roster he is in no way there to help out RG3!

    • manchild157 - Nov 13, 2013 at 4:07 PM

      I’m not letting Burns off the hook either. He’s not the only ST’s coach that is required to get the job done with what you have. After 9 games these players should have been taught necessary skills to be at the very least respectable, instead all teams playing us ”light us up” and we respond by not kicking it to their return guys. That’s a pretty pathetic game plan.

  3. kenlinkins - Nov 15, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    I once had a Special teams Coach who believed that anytime in the first half, if you had to re-kick a punt due to a flag, you used a T.O. to give your guys a 2 min breather (as Time Outs have less value in 1st half). If we had done this maybe we would not have had a punt returned for a TD. In the 2nd half we would delay the next play as long as he could by talking to the Ref’s, calling over the Ref from the other side of the field to have the call explained to him, even getting the player flagged into the talk and taking blame in front of Ref while the coach asked the Ref questions while “coaching” the player. Few Ref’s would even know what was happening as long as you didn’t sound like the Ref’s made a mistake.

    • manchild157 - Nov 15, 2013 at 4:26 PM

      That’s pretty sharp Ken.

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