Special Teams Improving
Oct 16, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz (3) kicks a 54-yard field goal from the hold of Thomas Morstead (6) with sixteen seconds left in the game against the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won 41-38. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Everything about the NFL is designed to be competitive.
From the salary cap to the way the draft is set, the NFL thrives off of high ratings from close games that keep fans on the edge of their seats.
When the games are this close, every detail matters, especially when it comes to Special Teams.
In their first three games this year, New Orleans has had more than their share of gaffes on special teams.
Against the Raiders, Will Lutz missed a 61 yard attempt that would have won the game. While that kick was admittedly a long shot, he also missed a much easier kick from 50.
In a one-point game, two missed kicks are the difference.
Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oakland Raiders strong safety T.J. Carrie (38) celebrates after New Orleans Saints kicker Will Lutz (3) misses a 61 yard field goal attempt as time expires during the fourth quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Raiders defeated the Saints 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
It goes beyond just missing kicks, against the Giants there was the painful blocked kick that was returned for a touchdown. This was a 10-point swing in a game where the Saints would ultimately lose by a field goal.
The return game has also been less than stellar.
Marcus Murphy and Travaris Cadet have made some questionable decisions to take the ball out of the end zone.
With the new rule placing the ball at the 25-yard line on touchbacks, I’m surprised Sean Payton hasn’t made it mandatory for his kickoff returners to simply just “take a knee” if they can.
Then of course was the embarrassing punt return debacle against the Falcons; when cornerback De’Vante Harris ran into return man Tommylee Lewis, then compounded his mistake by picking up the ball and fumbling it.
Coach Payton was quoted as saying, “It’s a terrible play.”
It’s worth noting that Harris has not seen much of the field since, and was inactive against the Panthers.
However, against the Panthers yesterday, the Saints started to turn things around.
While Lutz missed a 53 yard kick, he kept his composure and delivered the game-winner when the Saints needed him the most.
In the return game, Tommylee Lewis delivered a spark, with a 59 yard punt return that should have been a touchdown.
Regardless, it was the best return by New Orleans this season and a reminder that Lewis has game changing speed. It set up a Drew Brees touchdown to Michael Thomas that put the Saints up 21-0.
Special teams are often the most neglected aspect of a team, for understandable reasons.
However, good teams know that plays in this phase have the potential to be game-changing; and if the Saints continue to trend upwards behind the speed of Lewis, the always consistent punter Thomas Morstead, and the increasing confidence and powerful leg of Lutz — then they could have a real edge against most teams.