Special teams, though?
“This is no time to panic!”
“THIS IS A PERFECT TIME TO PANIC!!”
(Side note: if they’re going to keep making these movies, Pixar, they’d better measure up. That’s all.)
Going back all the way to right before the Patriots blew it against the Giants the second time, New England’s never ranked outside the top 6 in opponent kick return average, according to NESN. That sounds about right - teams with prime Matt Slater, among other dudes, tend to have good things happen to them right after the ball gets booted.
This year, though, let’s put it this way: anyone who’s ever run cross country or any kind of outdoor race like a 10k or half marathon or whatever knows what a “PR course” is - it’s a race that’s usually got enough flat spots and/or downhills that you can fly through it and usually set a personal-best time compared to, say, Heartbreak Hill. It’s the running equivalent of “Hey, we have the Browns this week!”
That’s what playing against New England’s special teams is like in the kicking game right now, and if it makes you feel any better (note: IT WON’T), they’re basically equally as bad at covering punts as they are kickoffs!
In terms of kicking return yards allowed:
Kickoff returns: 29th in the NFL
Punt returns: 31st in the NFL
In terms of kickoffs specifically, per ESPN, that shakes out to allowing an average of 26.4 yards per return. Put it another way, even if you catch it in the end zone against the Patriots, you may as well bring it out, cause odds are you’ll pick up at least a couple extras before you get popped.
Or, in some cases, well, you all saw this in the Titans game: leave it to this crew to make Darius Jennings look like Sonic the Hedgehog.
Please note that, in the audio there, Titans play-by-play guy Mike Keith notes that Jennings brings that kick out from the 1. Gostkowski couldn’t have dropped that one in a bucket any better than he did, and give the Titans credit for some slick blocking, but that’s....that’s not how you do it. That’d get a man cut on some of these Belichick teams, or at the very least, you’d be the subject of a “teachable moment” on Monday morning. And to be honest, I’m not sure which of those is worse.
Fortunately, for those like myself who don’t have press passes but if we did would like to simply ask Bill “Just...why?”, if there’s one thing Belichick likes to preach the gospel on, it’s special teams. Here’s what he had to say about the kick coverage specifically (from NESN again):
“(The new rules are) relevant, and they’ve eliminated some things that you can do on the kickoff team that we’ve done in the past,” Belichick said. “I think we’ve had our moments. At times, we’ve covered well. But as you point out, we haven’t (at times) and have probably had more breakdowns in that area than what we are used to having in previous years.
“It’s definitely an issue. It’s an area that we’ve got to continue to work in. I don’t think it’s a rule thing as much as we’ve got to coach it better. We’ve got to play better. The whole operation has to be better. We have six weeks to get it to a high level, and hopefully we’ll be able to do that.”
Hopefully is right, bro, cause just look at this ranking of how the Patriots have done with opponent starting field position since ‘05:
Patriots’ ranking in average opponent starting field position
2018 (entering Week 10): 28th
And if you’re more of a visual person, here’s how that directly translates to whether the other team will hang points on the board or not based on starting field position!
Weird, it works out the same way in Madden as it does in real life!
Belichick is right, per usual, in that the Patriots have six weeks to get this part of their game firing at a high level, otherwise we’re all going to be white-knuckling it through what used to be something the Patriots had on lockdown for almost as long as the AFC EAST.