Tuesday, January 22, 2013
On special teams changes and rankings
By Paul Kuharsky
Three of four AFC special teams coaches lost their jobs after the season.
Marwan Maalouf was out after just one year in Indianapolis (replaced by Tom McMahon).
John Bonamego was out after just one year in Jacksonville (replaced by Mike Mallory, today.)
Alan Lowry was out after 14 years in the position in Tennessee (replaced by Nate Kaczor who was promoted from on staff.)
Houston’s Joe Marciano has been in the post since the Texans came into existence in 2002.
Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News annually ranks every teams' special teams. In 22 kicking game categories he awards one point for the best and 32 for the worst. Minnesota grabbed the No. 1 spot with 253.5 points, and Carolina was worst at 486.
The AFC South scored quite poorly here, offering some rationale for the three ousters. Parenthetically, I've added Football Outsiders rankings, an explanation of which you can find here.)
16. Tennessee, 358.5 (19th)
24. Houston, 402 (32nd)
26. Jacksonville, 418 (25th)
27. Indianapolis, 423 (12th)
A team like the Jaguars suffers more from bad special teams than Houston and Indianapolis, I’d argue. Any team can get a big boost from special-teams play, but a bad team needs that boost more because it's less likely to get major plays from offense or defense. (That doesn't, however, mean they should be spending a third-round pick on a punter who punts 91 times all season.)
Solid, disciplined, well-coached play and schemes can do more to overcome average personnel in special teams than on offense or defense. Building teams are likely to be younger, and younger guys are generally more willing and able to sell out to cover a kickoff or block for a punt returner.
A good team like the Colts of the Bill Polian/Tony Dungy/Jim Caldwell era showed for a lot of years that, with a quarterback the caliber of Peyton Manning, disregarding or de-emphasizing coverage and return teams can be completely survivable.
Houston and Indianapolis were playoff teams this season, despite bad special teams. The playoff field was all over the map in Gosselin's ratings -- from the Vikings (No. 1) to the Redskins (No. 31).
The Titans ranked in the middle of the pack and special teams helped them more than they hurt them. That's a goal the other three teams can aspire to, at least to start an upward swing.