Thursday, November 14, 2013
Special teams showdown coming Sunday
By Terry Blount
RENTON, Wash. -- The best punt coverage man in the NFL -- Seattle's Jeremy Lane -- is going to face the best punt returner in the league -- Minnesota's Marcus Sherels -- Sunday in Seattle.
And the NFL's best kick returner -- Minnesota rookie Cordarrelle Patterson -- will face one of the best teams in kickoff coverage in the Seahawks.
Something has to give.
Lane, the gunner on punts, is a big reason Seattle leads the league in yards allowed per punt at only 1.4 yards per return. He will get a good test Sunday against Sherels, who leads the NFL with a 16.3 yard average per return. Sherels had an 86-yard touchdown return earlier this year against the New York Giants.
"I just hope he doesn't fair catch it so I can get my hits in," Lane said. "It's gonna be a fun test."
Lane, a cornerback in his second NFL season out of Northwestern State (La.), has seven solo tackles this season on special teams. His speed and quickness have enabled him to get downfield in a hurry and usually be right in the return man's face when he catches the punt.
It also helps that punter Jon Ryan usually has excellent hang time on his kicks.
The real goal is to limit Sherels' chances by not needing to punt much. That was the case last weekend at Atlanta. Seven of Seattle's first eight possessions resulted in points scored. The only time the Seahawks punted on those eight series came after they drove to the Atlanta 38-yard-line.
Seattle punted only twice, and the second one came late in the fourth quarter long after the outcome of the 33-10 win had been decided.
It's the other return man who is likely to get more opportunities for the Vikings. Patterson, a rookie from Tennessee, leads the NFL with a 35.2-yard average on 24 returns, including two touchdowns.
One of those was for 109 yards against Green Bay, so he isn't afraid to bring it out from the back of the end zone. That's likely against Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka, who has placed 56 of 60 kickoffs in the end zone this season.
"We're going to expect him to run it out every time," Seattle special teams captain Heath Farwell said. "Plus, it's getting colder and that means it harder to kick the ball out of the end zone."
The Seahawks are No. 5 in the NFL in kickoff coverage at 20.1 yards per return, and Seattle is first in kickoff tackles inside the 20-yard-line with 14.
Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier has no hard-and-fast rules about when Patterson can take a kick out of the end zone and when he can't.
"We kind of give him the green light," Frazier said. He's such a big-play guy. We trust his judgment. We haven't put any handcuffs on him for kickoffs. He believes every time he touches the ball he has a chance to score.