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Putting the "special" in Special Teams

15 January 2010 Leave a comment

Here’s an interesting article from Panthers.com’s Andrew Mason about the poor performance from the ST unit since Danny Crossman took over in 2004.

Mason: [comment in bold-italics mine ]

Five seasons as ST coach = 5 seasons without a return for a TD

“Crossman had been the team’s special-teams coach for five seasons since replacing Scott O’Brien, who moved on to the Miami Dolphins after the 2004 campaign. The 2009 campaign was Crossman’s seventh on the Panthers staff; he worked under O’Brien as a special-teams assistant in 2003 and 2004.

Under Crossman’s watch, the Panthers enjoyed stability among their kickers; John Kasay and Jason Baker handled full-time placekicking and punting duties, respectively, while Rhys Lloyd became the kickoff specialist in Week 17 of the 2007 season and remained there the following two seasons, leading the NFL in touchbacks with 51 over the last two seasons.

But in spite of Lloyd’s kickoff proficiency, the Panthers struggled on kickoff coverage. Lloyd’s 30-percent touchback ratio ranked fifth in the league last season, but when opponents returned his kickoffs, their average drive start was at their 29.6, the fourth-worst in the league.

Kickoff returns were also a point of frustration for the Panthers in recent seasons. Their collective average of 20.3 yards per kickoff return in the last five years ranked 32nd [dead last] in that span, was 2.3 yards below the league average (22.6) and four yards behind the league’s best (New England, 24.3).

During the last five years, 13 teams had single-season kickoff-return averages below 20 yards. Three of those 13 — the most in the league — were by the Panthers, including a 19.9-yard average in 2009 that ranked 31st.

Carolina fared better on punt returns the last five years; the team’s 8.4-yard average ranked 20th in the league in that span.

Return touchdowns were also difficult to find. The Panthers are the only team without a kickoff- or punt-return touchdown in the last five seasons; they’ve allowed five to opponents in that span, including two in 2009: an 85-yard DeSean Jackson punt return in Week 1 and a 97-yard Sammie Stroughter kickoff return for Tampa Bay in Week 6.

The Panthers’ regular-season special-teams touchdown return drought goes back to Dec. 28, 2003, when Steve Smith scored on a 58-yard punt runback against the New York Giants.

Carolina also had some difficulties with punt protection, allowing a league-worst five punts to be blocked in the last five years, including three in 2008. The Panthers were also one of six teams to not block an opponent’s punt in the last five years. Their last punt block was by Karl Hankton on Dec. 26, 2004 at Tampa Bay in the penultimate game of O’Brien’s tenure.

Based on this information, it looks like my assessment of “it’s about freaking time” is pretty accurate. I’m just glad that the decision to improve one of the two glaring weaknesses has been made.

Now, if we can only get that quarterback situation straightened out…

Categories: Offseason, Team Stats