Thursday, March 10, 2011

Special Teams - Big Play Files - Dez Return vs Giants

Let's continue our series on the big special teams plays of the season. Already this year we have covered the following plays:

1. Week 2 - Dez Bryant's Punt Return vs Chicago

2. Week 4 - Tennessee's Marc Mariani Kickoff Return

3. Week 5 - Minnesota's Percy Harvin's TD Kickoff Return

Today, here is yet another big Special Teams play in a loss for the Cowboys. But, it is of the positive variety as Dez Bryant shows off his world class talent yet again.

But, before we get to the play itself, I did want to show you the way special teams work. Really, the point of this exercise is to show you the impossible job of a special teams coach.

You see, anytime there is an injury or a roster move on a team, it directly affects the special teams. Therefore, your teams are never the same 11 guys from week to week. Sometimes, you want to change guys out for lack of performance, but sometimes, the team wants to release a player or call a player up. Other times they want to take a player off of special teams because he is too busy with other responsibilities and they want to take something off of the plate. Joe DeCamillis can raise his voice on the topic, but there is a real delicate balance between all departments of a team to make sure you have things covered. And with 65 snaps for offense and defense, it is sometimes very tough for a ST coach to defend needing a guy for what might be 2 or 3 punt returns.

Anyway, I want to show you the punt formations of the two Dez Bryant TD returns.

1st - Week 2 vs Chicago

And then, Week 6 vs New York

Obviously, what jumps off the page at you is the fact that there are only 2 players in the same spots on the field in the two returns. Dez (#88) and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (#27). Otherwise, every single player is either totally new from the Bears return or at least playing a new spot. One would assume that if the Bears lineup generated a TD just 4 weeks earlier, that you would want to keep the lineup together, but in the NFL that is just not possible.

Now, let's look at the play. Rookie Punter Matt Dodge made his name nationally known because he was partially blamed for one of the most famous plays of 2010 when he punted to DeSean Jackson. Overall, the 7th Rounder had a pretty good year and demonstrated that he had a very powerful foot at times.

Well, this play was caused almost completely because of that powerful foot. You see, what makes Mat McBriar arguably the best punter in the NFL is that he has both an unbelievable distance (47.9 average, 1st in NFL) but also almost never "out-kicks his coverage". In this case, Dodge not only out-kicks his coverage, but he does it in amazingly extreme fashion.

The line of scrimmage is the 24 yard line of the Giants, and it appears Dez Bryant is set up at the snap at his own 35 yard line allowing for about a 41 yard punt. The punt chases him all the way back to inside his own 10 yard line and Dodge is credited with a 69 yard punt - Dodge's longest punt of the season.

Here is the play:

As you can see, a huge part of covering punts is gap integrity and keeping in your lanes, but equally big is the timing of their runs downfield with the hang time of the punt. If you are supposed to punt the ball 40-50 yards but then send one booming 69 yards, then everything is great unless the returner goes back and gets it. Obviously, if he cannot field it because you kicked it so far there are no problems. But, on this return we see Dez go back and smoothly field the punt, then circle around.

What is amazing about this is that you usually have a couple key blocks to highlight by looking at the replays. But in this particular return, you just shake your head at the explosion of Dez. He fields the ball and heads right as he avoids 84-Duke Calhoun. Once he avoids him it is one cut back left and upfield and he is gone.

He is not touched after that and the one block that seems key would be Sam Hurd occupying 57-Chase Blackburn. But, sometimes, you just see that combination of one team out-kicking the coverage and another team having a special return man who can make you pay for that with some real explosion.

Sometimes a 69-yard punt can get you beat.

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