RENTON, Wash. – Coaches at every level of football love to harp on the importance of special teams, but more often than not, the offense and defense get all of the attention.
But if ever there was an example of just how valuable good special teams play can be, it can be found in the 2-1 start of the Seattle Seahawks.
It isn’t coach-speak or another cliché to say that special teams play is a big part of the reason the Seahawks are 2-1 and tied for first in the NFC West. The most obvious example was Sunday’s win over San Diego that featured two second-half kickoff- return touchdowns by Leon Washington. Seattle managed just one first down and 26 yards of offense in the second half of that game, but still won 27-20 thanks in larger part to Washington’s two returns.
But it wasn’t just those two plays that have made Seattle’s special teams play its strength through three games. After all, this is a team that ranks 29th out of 32 teams in total offense, yet is tied for eighth in the league in scoring with 24 points per game. And the defense ranks 28th in yards allowed, but is a respectable 14th in points allowed. A lot of that has to do with the turnovers forced by the defense, but strong play from kick and punt teams has helped too.
“We saw a fantastic demonstration of our special teams work,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Sunday’s win over San Diego. “Obviously, the two kickoff returns are what you think of, but we had punt returns, and we covered kicks well, and the intensity and the energy was really something.”
In 2009, the Seahawks ranked 19th or worse in four of the main measures of special teams success: kickoff coverage, kickoff returns, net punting and punt returns. This year, instead of being a liability, special teams is helping the Seahawks win.
“This is a special unit,” said cornerback Roy Lewis, Seattle’s special teams captain. “I honestly believe, we believe, that we’re the best special teams unit in the NFL right now, regardless of what the stats say.”
Through three games this season, Seattle is in the top 10 in three of those four categories. The Seahawks lead the league in kick returns (46.3 yards per return), are third in punt returns (15.9 yards per return), and ninth in kick coverage (21 yards per return).
Only in net punting (19th) do the Seahawks rank in the bottom half of the league.
Part of the success has come from the addition of some explosive new players such as Washington and rookie receiver Golden Tate, who ranks first among punt returners with an average of 25.2 yards per return. Kicker Olindo Mare, meanwhile, ranks fifth in the league in touchback percentage, and hasn’t missed a field goal since the third game of last season.
A lot of the credit also goes to special teams coach Brian Schneider, as well as to Carroll and G.M. John Schneider.
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