What went wrong? Special teams

January, 23, 2014
1/23/14
6:47
PM ET
During the 2012 season, the Houston Texans special teams were a mess.

During the 2013 season, the Texans special teams went through some significant growing pains.

We'll take a look at some of that in today's installment of our "What went wrong?" series.

So far this series has examined safeties, running backs, inside linebackers, receivers, outside linebackers, tight ends, defensive linemen, offensive linemen and cornerbacks.

Key players: Kicker Randy Bullock, punter Shane Lechler, long snapper Jon Weeks, returner Keshawn Martin

What went wrong: This season, the Texans lost more than they gained from their special teams. But it was an improvement over last season. The Texans ranked 22nd in the NFL in expected points added, actually having a net loss of 8.02 points. Last season, though, the special teams lost them an astounding 41.74 expected points.

Let's start with the kicker. What was the equivalent of Bullock's rookie season, after he spent his true rookie season on injured reserve, did not start well for the former Texas A&M kicker. He started by making one of five field goals and missing all four of his attempts of 50 yards or longer in his first nine games. Lechler insisted it wasn't all Bullock's fault, that their chemistry needed work, and that he was confident Bullock would improve. He was right. From week 11 on, Bullock didn't miss a single field goal attempt.

As for Lechler, his new teammates marveled at his ability this season. He was the Texans' most effective free agent pickup after 13 seasons with the Oakland Raiders. His 47.6 yard gross punting average was a franchise record.

The Texans' coverage and return units struggled again, and their performance eventually led to the firing of special teams coordinator Joe Marciano. A look at the numbers shows the returns weren't terrible. Houston ranked in the top 10 in net kickoff returns and 19th in net punt returns, and their three return touchdowns were better than most NFL teams. But coverage units were a liability. Houston ranked 28th in both opponents' yard per kick return and per punt return.

Reason for hope?: You can expect Bullock to pick up where he left off last season, and his relationship with Lechler, his holder, will keep getting better. Often when special teams struggle, it's a sign that the bottom of the roster isn't very strong since that's where teams get their special teams players. That will be something to monitor this year.

Tania Ganguli

ESPN Houston Texans reporter

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