Special Teams Aren’t as Special Anymore

Lombardi's Way Special Teams Aren’t as Special Anymore

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With all due respect to Justin Tucker (who is essentially Matt Stover with a bigger club) and Sam Koch who has the 6th best net punting average (41.5) in the league, special teams are overrated.

Sorry Coach Rosburg.

During the Ravens 8 games so far Justin Tucker has kicked off 46 times. Only 13 of those kicks have been returned.

Sam Koch has punted just 22 times and of those punts only 10 have been returned. The others have been whistled dead because of a touchback (2), fair catch (5), out-of-bounds (2) and downed balls (3).

In the return department the Ravens have brought back 15 kicks and 15 punts.

Add it all up and there have been just 53 competed special teams plays during which tackling was involved. That’s just 6.63 per game.

So I decided to look back at 2012 and 2013, years during which Jacoby Jones, Tucker and Koch have all been teammates.

Here’s a seasonal comparison of the Ravens’ kicks and punts:

Screenshot 2014-10-30 19.26.48
* Through 8 games
STT ~ Special Teams Tackles
Avg STT ~ Average Special Teams Tackles per game

Here’s a seasonal comparison of the Ravens’ kick and punt returns:

Screenshot 2014-10-30 22.31.58
STT ~ Special Teams Tackles (from chart above)
Total CSTP ~ Total No. of Competed Special Teams Plays per game = Avg Returns + Avg STT
Seasonal CSTP ~ Total CSTP on the season

So what do these stats suggest?

They suggest that there is a declining level of blocking and tackling on special teams and that fits in nicely with what the league hopes to achieve – fewer plays that could result in injury. Based upon projections the Ravens in 2014 will have nearly 90 fewer competed plays than in 2012 – almost 6 plays per game.

That’s a huge drop off!

Perhaps the rules changes have influenced the decline. Perhaps “teams” are gaining a better understanding of what to do to eliminate the threat of big returns. Perhaps offenses have improved and there are fewer three-and-outs and punts are less contested. Perhaps it’s all of the above and more.

At the end of the day, special teams contributions are declining and growing less significant.

And maybe, when coaches configure their rosters, they should place less emphasis on teams and more emphasis on quality positional depth.

But that might be asking a lot of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.

After all, special teams are part of his DNA.


ESPN.com, NFL.com and ProFootballFocus all provided statistical references for this article
Do you view special teams play as an equal to offensive and defensive play?

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and CBS Sports 1300. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, Guinness, Orange Crushes and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi


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