Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fixing the Special Teams

Football Outsiders DVOA ranked the Colts special teams dead last overall, 31st on FG/XPs, 29th in kickoff coverage, 26th in punt coverage, 24th in kickoff returns and the lone bright spot, 6th in punt returns. You don't need advanced stats to tell you the special teams were awful, it was obvious. They cost the Colts a minimum of one win (@SD) and put the offense and defense in bad situations the entire year. How does a team that requires top level speed from it's linebackers, great tackling ability from it's DBs, has a 288lb DT who is fast enough to cover kicks and employs the highest paid kicker in the league suck on special teams?

I have to point the finger at the coaching. The talent is there, the Colts love the kind of defensive players that most teams relegate to special teams, undersized speedy LBs and D-linemen, hard hitting DBs, even some with top level speed (Giordano/Jennings), they used a fifth round pick on Roy Hall (who hardly played in college) because he had the physical talent to contribute on special teams immediately, not as a returner, on the coverage unit. Dungy and Polian see special teams as such a problem they are using mid round picks on kick coverage players. The Colts special teams have been above average once in Russ Purnell's time as the Colt's special team coach (2003, 14th in the league and that's with Vanderjagt perfect on FG/XPs). The Colts kickoff unit has varied between bad and embarrassing, but remained below average for Purnell's entire 6 years with the Colts. The Punt unit has hovered around the low side of average with occasional dips to horrible. The return units are consistently average. Russ Purnell=bad special teams play.

Was Vinateiri hurt? If he was I'm willing to writeoff his horrible season, but if not I'm worried. The highest paid kicker in the league should not be 12.4 points below the average NFL kicker. Hopefully his booming kickoffs and first successful 40+ yard FG in the SD playoff game means he was hurt for most of the year like some people were suggesting. If the Colts know he was healthy through that awful stretch of season Vinatieri should be on a tight leash next year. If this year is the kind of year the Colts will continue to get from him he can be added right below Corey Simon on the list of reasons the Colts don't sign big money FAs.

Hopefully the Colts will finally take steps in the right direction. Fire Purnell and figure out what the hell was wrong with Mr. Clutch. I don't want to dread kickoffs and punts anymore.

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