The New England Patriots pride themselves on playing fundamentally sound football in all three phases of the game, and they have mostly succeeded doing just that en route to a 9-5 record this season. However, the team has struggled in one area in particular: their punt protection team has surrendered three blocks already, easily the highest number in the NFL.
Of the five teams to surrender a blocked punt so far this season, New England is the only one to give up multiple such plays: the Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Chargers, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons have all allowed one of their punts to be blocked. The Patriots stand alone, with Jake Bailey being unable to get three of his 42 kicks off.
Bailey is hardly to blame for those plays, though, despite the three blocks standing next to his name in the stat books. The main reason for New England’s struggles lie in the protection, and by extension the coaching — something Patriots kicking game coordinator Cam Achord said so himself earlier this week.
“In all honesty, it starts with me and just doing the fundamentals, techniques,” Achord said. “Making sure the guys are understanding what I’m asking for, looking for, and just executing our techniques better. It goes back to me and making sure I’m stressing that and coaching that effectively. As long as we can start doing that and improve our fundamental techniques, we should be able to handle the punt protections.”
Given the Patriots’ issues in this part of special teams play it is fair to question Achord and his future outlook in his position. While the coverage and return teams, let alone the place kicking unit, have looked very good again this season, surrendering three blocked punts — including one returned for a touchdown — is certainly not what New England is looking for from the unit and its second-year coach.
What will happen over the rest of the season and into 2022 remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Achord still enjoys the backing of Patriots fans, at least of 58 percent of them. According to SB Nation’s latest Reacts poll, 58 percent of participants have voted that, yes, they do still have faith in Achord’s abilities to coach New England’s kicking game.
His track record certainly speaks for himself, but whether or not he has any staying power beyond this season will be determined by whether or not he can fix New England’s punt protection issues. If he can do that, he will prove those right who still express their support.
If not the Patriots might be in trouble down the stretch, and their special teams coordinator in particular.
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