- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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The Patriots have put together complementary efforts during their current five-game winning streak, and most of the attention has been turned toward the offense and defense.
Not to go overlooked, however, have been the contributions of the special teams, which have been responsible for three touchdowns during that time, including a fumble return for a score by Julian Edelman last Thursday night versus the Jets.
And the contributions in the kicking game stretch even further than just big plays, as entering Week 12 the Patriots were holding their opponents to the worst average starting field position, according to Football Outsiders. (It should also be noted that the Patriots' offense has started with the seventh-best average field position.)
That's a testament to both the team's coverage units and the powerful legs of punter Zoltan Mesko and kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Head coach Bill Belichick echoed the importance of special teams during a Monday morning conference call.
"We really look at the special teams as being a third of the game," he said. "The field position part of it is huge, trying to start offensively on a shorter field or play defensively on a longer field, as well as taking advantage of our scoring opportunities on the field-goal team and making game-changing plays in the kicking game. That's always one of our goals every week."
The Patriots have been forcing offenses to go the long way against their defense by pinning them back to nearly the 23-yard line on average this season. Belichick knows that the field position battle is a vital component to a team's success.
"Statistically that field position edge eventually comes into play, not necessarily on any one individual series or possession, but over the long haul," he said. "We all know how important field position is."
He took time to laud the efforts of the team's tandem of special-teams coaches, coordinator Scott O'Brien and assistant Joe Judge, who is in his first year with the team.
"I think that Scott [O'Brien] and Joe Judge, our two special-teams coaches, do a great job of coaching the players," he said. "Taking the young guys and improving them, watching some of our younger guys perform for us in the kicking game, as well as some of our veteran players, bringing it all together."
The Patriots face another stiff challenge in the kicking game this week against the Dolphins, who are second in the NFL in kickoff return average at 29.0 yards per return.
"Miami is really good," Belichick continued. "They're well-coached, they've got a lot of big, fast guys that are physical and they work hard at it. They do a good job in the kicking game and have good specialists."