View Full Version : Coaches get kicks from many happy returns? (Kubiak quotes)

09-02-2007, 07:12 PM

the ever-changing NFL, where trends come and go, where innovation is used to help fuel the desire to get the competitive edge, a certain drill conducted during a Pittsburgh Steelers training camp practice earlier this summer seemed a bit much, even for cutting-edge coaches.
Away from the quarterbacks, receivers and most of the other glamour players, a group of Steelers were taking part in a special-teams drill. One at a time, a player would try and beat his man off the line of scrimmage and then run to the end zone. Once there, a coach would bounce a volleyball on the turf and the player would try and knock it back into the field of play, simulating trying to down a punt inside the five.

It was then, while watching that drill, that it hit me: The NFL has gone special-teams mad.

Yes, special teams are important. But do they need to take up 25 minutes in every practice and have entire sessions during camp dedicated to kicking and punting the damn ball?

"It's amazing how much we do now," Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. "It used to be the assistants used to coach special teams. Now it really is specialized."

So in a game that includes a total of 145.6 plays -- 62.5 for the offense, 62.5 for the defense and 20.6 for special teams -- about one-seventh come on special teams and that's counting extra points for both sides, which is basically nine guys falling on each other unless it's a kick to decide a game.

During an interview on this subject, Phillips pulled a piece of paper from his desk to back it up.

"There you go," Phillips said. "This is the number of plays run by the Dallas Cowboys last year. You can see the percentage. You can see the special-teams number is a lot smaller than both the offense and defense."

In no way, no how, are special teams are a third of the game.

"Try convincing the coaches of that," New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said.

"Oh no, it's more important than one-seventh," Carolina Panthers coach John Fox said.

It might seem that way, but the math says otherwise.

The special teams proponents all have theories about the how they impact games as much as plays from scrimmage. They'll talk about how important blocking the wings can be on a game-winning field goal. They'll talk about field position. They'll talk about how a muffed punt or a blocked punt can cripple a team. They bring up how the majority of NFL games are decided in the fourth quarter.

Maybe that's all true. And we do hear all the time about how the NFL has become a field-position game, and how a special-teams play can help turn the field. But if you have 20 big offensive plays out of the 62 run, it shouldn't come down to special teams, right?

Who cares about turning the field when the offense has six long-scoring drives? Does flipping the field matter if you lead 38-3? Or does it matter if the defense has three turnovers, leading to short fields and three touchdowns? Yet the special-teams proponents don't buy it.

They like to play close, rip a kick or a punt, and hope to win late with a field goal or a late score.

"Our team is a perfect example why special teams are so important," Kubiak said. "We're a young team. We'll play some close games. We can change the way the game goes with a big return. That's why we're hoping for big things from Jerome Mathis and Jacoby Jones."

In the preseason, Jones ripped two punts for touchdowns, making him the flavor of the month as a return man.