Today’s guest post comes from Miles Wray, a long-time reader of the site. He’s written an interesting post on special teams today, but you may know him as the host of the daily NBA podcast The 82 Review. You can also find him on Twitter @mileswray. What follows are Miles’ words: as always, we thank our guest writers for their contributions.
Bill Belichick Found Another Way to Bleed Yards From OpponentsAnytime the New England Patriots are at the top — or the bottom — of a league-wide leaderboard, no matter how insignificant that leaderboard is, it’s worth taking notice. The odds are that Bill Belichick and Ernie Adams are thinking a few steps ahead of every other team in the league, and are leveraging yet another corner of the game to their advantage.
Since the Patriots offense remains incredibly explosive, it’s pretty reasonable that they would be near the top of the league in the total number of kickoffs returned (i.e., opponent kickoff returns). New England has 47 kickoffs this year, or nearly double the number of a struggling offense like the Cleveland Browns (26). But how about this: the Patriots are dramatically ahead of everybody else in the league in the percentage of their kickoffs that are returned.
Since kickoffs were moved from the 30- to the 35-yard-line in 2011, it’s more common than ever to see a kickoff boomed out the back of the endzone. These plays have become so routine it’s basically part of the commercial break now. But not for the Patriots. The Patriots seem to be inviting their opponent to return their kicks.
I went through the kickoff statistics for each team in the league, and discarded any onside kicks, any short kicks in the last 10 seconds of the first half (which are often intentionally squibbed), and any kicks where the just-scored/kicking-off team had been penalized, moving the kickoff to the 30-, 25-, or 20-yard line. The remaining “clean” kickoffs give the best indication of a team’s intentional special teams strategy over time.
This season, most teams have about a third of their kickoffs returned. Only three teams have had over half of their kickoffs returned; the Patriots are alone at over 60%: [click to continue…]