Just How Special are the 2017 Atlanta Falcons Special Teams?
The Time is NOW
Many eyebrows were raised in the Cage when word got out that Pro Football Focus had the Falcons’ Special Teams units ranked as the 8th best in the NFL after week 9 (when the Falcons were 4-4). Falcons fans knew we had a premiere Field Goal Kicker and a good Punter, but we also knew that the Falcons’ Special Teams had not passed the eyeball test.
Through week 11 (when the Falcons were 6-4), the Falcons had the worst average starting field position in the NFL – their own 25.2 yard line. To that point, Falcons opponents had the 5th best starting field position – their own 30.6 yard line. Through week 11, Football Outsiders had the Falcons ranked 20th in Special Teams play (through week 9, when PFF had the Falcons Special Teams ranked #8, Football Outsiders had them ranked #18).
After some discussion in the Cage, Cage administrator Arno suggested a systematic analysis of the Falcons’ Special Teams performance in 2017 might be in order. Here is my attempt to analyze Special Teams performance through traditional stats. We will look at five facets of Special Teams’ play in an attempt to determine where the 2017 Falcons stand in relation to their peers:
Field goals and extra points
Punts and punt coverage
Kickoffs and kickoff coverage
Statistics from: https://www.pro-football-reference.com/years/2017/ , www.footballdb.com , and www.teamrankings.com . All statistics from week 11 (when the Falcons were 6-4).
Field Goals and Extra Points
Let’s start by looking at an area of presumed strength: Matt Bryant. Through ten games, Bryant attempted 22 field goals (14th most in the NFL); opponents had attempted 25 field goals against the Falcons (5th most). Bryant made 19 of his 22 field goal attempts (#13 in field goals made), including 10 of 11 from 40+ yards; opponents made 21 of their 25 FG attempts (#7 in opponent FGM). Bryant ranked #13 in field goal percentage at 86.4%; opponents ranked #20 in opponent FG percentage at 84.0%. Both Bryant and our opponents have made all of their extra point kicks.
Analysis: Atlanta has been better than the opposition, but appears to be in the middle of the pack in this facet of the game.
Punts and Punt Coverage
Next, let’s look at the Falcons’ Punter – Matt Bosher. Bosher had punted the ball only 31 times through 10 games (#31 – second fewest punts attempted), but had the fewest punting yards with 1367 yards. Bosher’s long punt was 62 yards (ranked #22 in longest punt). Bosher’s average yards per punt of 44.1 yards was good for only #24 in the NFL. Bosher has landed 12 punts inside the 20 yard line (tied for #29). Bosher has punted 3 balls out of bounds (tied for 27th most). Bosher has forced fair catches 12 times (tied for #17).
From these statistics, we can see that over a third of Bosher’s punts have been downed inside the 20 yard line, and over a third of his punts have resulted in a fair catch. While there is probably some overlap between those two categories, it still appears at a glance that close to two thirds of Bosher’s punts have been very effective. Bosher has not had a punt blocked this year. Bosher currently ranks #17 in Net Punting Average at 40.9 yards per punt.
As far as the Falcons’ punt coverage rankings, they have allowed 13 punt returns (tied for the 3rd fewest) for 81 yards (6th fewest) – giving up an average of 6.2 yards per punt return (#12 in YPR). The Falcons have not allowed a punt return for a TD.
Analysis: Considering all of the factors mentioned, it appears that the Falcons should be ranked somewhere in the middle of the pack in Punts and Punt coverage.
Kickoffs and Kickoff Coverage
Now let’s look at kickoffs, which are also handled by Bosher. Through week 11, Bosher had kicked off 53 times (8th most) for an average of 63.1 yards per kickoff (19th most). Bosher was #10 in touch-backs with 33, but his touch-back percentage of 62.26% ranks #15.
The Falcons kickoff coverage unit has faced 19 returns (16th most), not counting one on-side kick, for 497 yards (#26) – their average of 26.1 yards per kickoff return ranks #30. Herein, we see a big reason why the Falcons’ Special Teams have not passed the eyeball test.
Analysis: We aren’t too bad, unless the other team returns the kickoff. When they do we stink. The good news – we haven’t allowed a return for a TD, yet (thanks, Bosher!).
So what about the Falcons’ return game in 2017 with new return man Andre Roberts? The Falcons have forced 36 punts (#31 in the NFL). That stat ought to provoke some chatter about the state of our defense in terms of being able to get off the field. Opposition punters have averaged 47.1 yards per punt against the Falcons (7th best average). The Falcons have only returned 12 punts (dead last in the NFL), for 96 yards (#28). The longest punt return by the Falcons was 27 yards (#18 in longest punt return). The Falcons average through week 11 was 8.0 yards per punt return (#16).
Analysis: We don’t return many punts, but when we do we are average.
The Falcons have received 52 kickoffs (14th most); 28 of those were touch-backs (#14), giving the Falcons opponents a Kickoff/Touch-back percentage of 53.85% (7th lowest percentage for opponents KO/TB %). The Falcons have returned 24 kickoffs (4th most in the NFL) for 483 yards (9th most), with a long return of 61 yards (7th longest LR), for an average of 20.1 yards per kickoff retrun (ranked #24).
Analysis: We return a lot of kickoffs, but are a bottom ten team at doing it.
In the final analysis, the 2017 Falcons Special Teams appear to me to be average in three of our five areas of consideration: Field goals and extra points, Punts and punt coverage, and Punt Returns. The Falcons appear to be a bottom ten unit in the other two areas of consideration: Kickoff coverage and Kickoff Returns. Add these areas together and it looks to me like Football Outsiders has our Special Teams ranked about right – #20 in the NFL.
How special are the 2017 Falcons Special Teams? Slightly below average, if you ask me. What’s your take on the state of our Special Teams, Cagers?