Friday, February 25, 2011

Special Teams Report - Part 2

Last time, we looked at the coverage units of the special teams. Among other things, the main reason to do this exercise is to identify those players who are not starters on the roster as either key special teams contributors or not. The fact is, in this day and age of only 45 players available on game day, it is key for a coaching staff to understand the simple math issues that are apparent.

Starting at 45, you deduct a 2nd QB, a kicker, a punter, and a deep snapper as players that cannot do anything but their actual job. This now takes you roster down to 41.

From those 41 spots, you need about 30 players (22 starters and about 8 more regulars) who are main contributors to both the offense and defense. In an average game, you will face about 65 snaps on offense and 65 on defense. So, these main contributors play at least 20 snaps. In addition, you have offensive linemen who do not start, and now that the wedge is no longer legal on kick returns, really have no place on special teams, either.

That leaves a group of fewer than 10 players who are not regulars who must fill out your 4 special teams units. Not only do they need to play on those teams, but they also need to play well enough that you are not losing games because of these punts and kickoffs. Ask the San Diego Chargers about this. Their special teams kept them out of the playoffs in 2010.

Over the next few weeks, I will try to cover all of the "big" plays this season that were on special teams. "Big" can mean positive or negative, and we will try to identify all of those moments from 2010 to help us see where the Cowboys were good and where they need help.

For now, we are simply trying to perform the roll call and see who the main players are on the teams, and to do this I selected 4 games and with pen and DVR, figured out who was playing where.

Kickoff Return Units

The Cowboys ranked 23rd in the NFL in Kickoff Returns with an average of 21.2. 3 players handled most of the duties and the player (Owusu-Ansah) they preferred out of training camp was the least impressive of the bunch:

NameReturnsRet AvgLong

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It should be noted that Tashard Choice and Kevin Ogletree also returned kicks for short tenures, but both were very poor in their returns.

Here are the players for the 4 games we charted on each of the kick return units.

Week 1Week 7Week 11Week 14
27-Owusu-Ansah27-Owusu Ansah37-McCann37-McCann
57-Butler59-B Williams57-Butler59-B Williams
58-J Williams86-Chandler86-Chandler83-Rucker
67-Costa92-Brent52-L Williams52-L Williams

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The regulars for at least 3 of the 4 games were the usual suspects: Sam Hurd, Danny McCray, Barry Church, Sean Lee, Jesse Holley, Chris Gronkowski, and Tashard Choice. 23rd in the NFL is obviously a ranking the team would like to improve. Of course, breaking 1 kickoff for a Touchdown would be enough to shoot to the top half of the league as the Cowboys long of 43 yards was among the league's worst.

Punt Return Units

Punt Returns were a totally different story. The Cowboys ranked 2nd in the NFL on their ability to return punts. They trailed only Devin Hester and the Chicago Bears. They also join the Bears as the only two teams to return 3 different punts for Touchdowns.

NameReturnsRet AvgLong

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Obviously, the McCann return against Detroit was something of a fluke, and a 97 yard TD return can certainly throw off the average, but the Cowboys will happily accept 3 TDs off of this unit. Let's see who was playing on punt returns the most:

Week 1Week 7Week 11Week 14
58-J Williams59-B Williams52-L Williams52-L Williams

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Hurd, Holley, McCray, Church, Lee, Scandrick, and Bryant were 7 guys who were the spine of this group. It is clear that Dez Bryant brings a skill set that almost demands that you leave him on your punt return team. Blocking does matter, but in the case of Bryant or Devin Hester, some guys just have the skills and instincts to return kicks and punts at an elite level.

So, in the end of this project, it is clear who is a vital part of Joe DeCamillis' group - Sam Hurd, Jesse Holley, Danny McCray, Barry Church, and Sean Lee are on all 4 teams. Victor Butler, Chris Gronkowski, and Leon Williams are on quite a few of them. And Tashard Choice and Orlando Scandrick are dependable and able to be there when you need them.

Next time, we will start to look at the explosive plays of the special teams in 2010 - good and bad.

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