After another season that was anything but spectacular, Houston Texans Special Teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky will have to pull a “rabbit out of his hat” (Easter Day pun) in order to turn this unit around. According to a report published by FootballOutsiders.com, as a unit, the Special Teams group improved from 29th overall in the league in special teams to 28th…hold your applause please!
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Field position and scoring are critical success factors and the special teams as a whole will have additional emphasis this season. So lets take a look at the aspects of this special teams unit, starting with punter.
This one we’ll keep short and sweet: Shane Lechler is an absolute weapon. As the teams kickoff specialist he led the league in touchbacks and had an impressive 27 punts inside the 20 yard line. He also had a very good average of 46.3 yards per punt. Mr. Lechler, you my friend are dismissed, job well done sir.
Shane’s efforts in punting however went in vain because the coverage team simply could not take advantage of their the powerful Lechler’s ability to pin opponents deep into their own territory. The punt coverage team was 28th in the league with 396 return yards allowed, which equates to about an average of 12 yards worth of field position.
From a strategy perspective, think about what that does for the opposing offense. On average you are basically giving your opponents more than a first down on every drive on every change of possession. Those numbers are absolutely unacceptable and must improve in order to give the defense a chance to be more effective at preventing scores.
Kickoff and Punt returns continue to be a challenge for the Texans as well. The collective hodge-podge of returners (Keshawn Martin, Danieal Manning, Damaris Johnson) compiled about one third of the return yards of Texans opponents.
The Texans collective unit had 422 return yards and allowed 1,169 yards. That is a tremendous shift in balance in field position. In the midst of what perhaps will be a season-long quarterback battle, the offense needs more support from this unit.
Finally, there’s Randy Bullock. Take a bow young fella, you’re probably the most agile kicker in NFL history. When it comes to avoiding being cut for inaccuracy for field goal attempts Randy is the man!
Randy did significantly improve this season, by making all 40 of his extra point attempts. He also made 85% of his field goal attempts, by hitting 30 out of 35 tries. But that simply isn’t good enough. Three of his five missed field goal attempts were 39 yards or less! In the world of kickers, those are chip-shot attempts.
Randy did, after all win the Lou Groza Award for best kicker in college football before coming to the Texans. The expectations for his accuracy should be higher. His accuracy, especially in short field goal attempts has to improve, and the Texans should seriously consider bringing in a second kicker to camp in order to pressure Randy to fix this problem.
If the Texans are to improve on their 9-7 record from last season, then this unit will have to perform much better than it has the previous 3 years.