While the New England Patriots’ 2019 season came to a disappointing end in the wild card playoff round, the team still has a lot of positives to look back on and build upon heading into the new year. Look no further than the kicking game: despite losing place kicker Stephen Gostkowski to a hip injury in early October, the Patriots’ special teams units were among the best and most consistent in the NFL throughout the season.
Not only did the kicking game operation play a major role in the Patriots being competitive in the field position battle despite a struggling offense, it also contributed points: the unit scored two touchdowns off of blocked punts and also set up short fields with other big plays. All in all, New England registered three takeaways on special teams and blocked a combined four kicks — no team in the league had more big plays in the game’s third phase.
As a result, the Patriots’ special teams units have received high grades across the board as Pat Thorman of Establish The Run recently pointed out on Twitter. He compared the grades the league’s 32 teams have received in the kicking game by three different outlets — veteran sports writer Rick Gosselin as well as advanced analytics websites Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders — and ranked them based on the results.
Only three clubs finished with a higher average score than the Patriots:
While Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders have New England in seventh and eleventh place, respectively, Gosselin — a respected figure in media circles when it comes to evaluating special teams play (something that has also been pointed out by head coach Bill Belichick in the past) — has the Patriots’ special teams units as the third best in the NFL on the list he released earlier this week via the Talk Of Fame Network.
He had to say the following about New England’s ranking:
Bill Belichick became head coach of the Patriots in 2000 and his special teams have finished in the Top 10 in 14 of the 20 seasons since then. The Patriots have finished in the Top 5 in eight of those seasons, including two of the last three years.
Belichick carried four elite special teamers this season — Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon Bolden and Justin Bethel — and the Patriots benefitted from that roster commitment. Slater, Ebner and Bolden all blocked kicks, Bethel recovered two fumbles and Slater one and Slater also scored a touchdown on a blocked punt, as did rookie Chase Winovich.
Belichick’s special teams coordinator, Joe Judge, has been hired as the new head coach of the New York Giants.
Gosselin mentions a key development as the Patriots’ special teams units turn the calendar from 2019 to 2020: the departure of Joe Judge. How the Patriots will fill his positions on their staff — he coached not just special teams since 2015 but also New England’s wide receivers last year — is not yet officially decided, but the safe bet appears to be his former assistant stepping into the now vacant spot: Cam Achord.
Achord originally joined the team’s staff prior to the 2017 season and is highly regarded in Foxborough. Him taking a step up the organizational ladder would therefore not be a surprise at this point in time. That being said, it remains to be seen how the special teams units perform in 2020 under new leadership and with core players Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner hitting unrestricted free agency in mid-March.