The Redskins are 5 games into their season and sit at 1-4. A lot of things have contributed to this poor start, but one of the most glaring issues has been the play (or lack thereof) of the Special Teams units. The Redskins let long time special teams coach Danny Smith leave to take the Pittsburgh job this offseason and replaced him with Keith Burns, who had been an assistant special teams coach with the Broncos. Through the first 5 games the results haven’t been pretty. While Smith’s units the last two years were far from perfect, they were at least good in some areas. This year the Redskins special teams unit is failing from top-to-bottom, and it is costing them games.
Last year Kai Forbath came on the scene mid-season and made his first 17 field goals (went 17-18 overall) for the Redskins, including a number of crucial ones that helped impact the outcome of the game. Forbath was a perfect 12-12 from field goals longer than 40 yards last year and looked to be a viable kicking weapon that the Redskins had lacked in recent years. So far this season Forbath is just 3 of 5, and missed three weeks due to a groin injury. Now perhaps his groin injury is effecting Forbath’s accuracy, but that doesn’t necessarily help. Groin injuries can linger for quite some time, particularly when a player isn’t resting. Regardless of cause, Forbath hasn’t hit anything further than 33 yards this year and that is a problem.
John Potter was brought in for Forbath’s three game absence and made 3 of 4 kicks, with a long of 43. While his accuracy was better, he’s got a long history of major accuracy issues, and probably isn’t an option to help out going forward. The Redskins aren’t in a position to leave points on the field and still expect to win games. They need Forbath to improve his accuracy and range going forward.
The one benefit Potter did give the Redskins is he typically kicked the ball farther with greater hang time. While his touchback percentage wasn’t great (57%), the extra distance and time gave more of an advantage to the coverage unit. While Potter had the stronger leg, he was in consistent and a couple of his kicks fell short. Forbath has a slightly better average than Potter, but there are questions about his hang time. Both Forbath’s 62 yard average and Potter’s 60 yard average are well below league average. This is allowing more returns and better return opportunities for their opponents and it’s causing the Redskins to lose the field position battle.
The Redskins re-signed Sav Rocca to a 2 year deal despite the fact that he finished in the bottom 10 in just about every punting category last year. While Rocca hasn’t been a top tier punter in a while the Redskins excused his performance in part due to a knee injury. Unfortunately things have gone from bad-to-worse as Rocca has been a huge liability for the Redskins.
Rocca currently ranks 33rd in both Gross punt yardage average at: 41.8 yards, Rocca also ranks 33rd in the league in Net punt yard average at: 33.7 yards. Ranking 33rd means that one team, the Jets, have had two eligible punters rank higher than him. What’s even worse is he would rank 34 if Bills punter Brian Moorman had just a few more punts before being injured. Rocca has had a couple beautiful punts, but far too many of his have been well below average kicks. That is not what the Redskins need right now and definitely not worth the money they paid Rocca this offseason.
As if the punting game couldn’t get any worse, the protection has already allowed one blocked punt this year and have allowed the opponent get close a couple of other times. There have just been six blocked punts this year and the Redskins have one of them. That is not a good category to be in and is something that needs fixing to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
This used to be the strength of the Redskins special teams, but no longer as the Redskins are allowing far too many big returns, including a PR for a touchdown and a 90 yard kickoff return against Dallas. While some of it is definitely on the punter and kicker, the coverage units need to do a better job of limiting the mistakes of their kickers. The Redskins are utilizing too many inexperienced special teams players and it is costing them in the field position department. The Redskins are now bottom 5 in the league in both coverage units, something you never saw under Danny Smith.
Another area where this group has failed is their allowing the Raiders to convert a fake punt. Not only did the Raiders pick up the first down, but they had a significant gain that nearly put them in scoring position. The Redskins were lucky that the defense held and the Raiders couldn’t capitalize on that drive.
Returns haven’t been a strong suit for the Redskins for some time, but they have at least been average in the past. This year they are simply awful as they are averaging just 4.8 yards per punt return and 19.3 yards per kick return. Even beyond the horrid yardage averages, the decision making by the returners has killed the Redskins field position. A lot of that kick-off return average is empty yardage as, the Redskins are consistently taking the ball out from the end zone and those yards count towards the average. In general you probably shouldn’t be returning the ball from 5 yards or more in the end zone, but it is even worse if you don’t have a quality return man bringing it out. On punt returns the Redskins saw rookie Chris Thompson make a number of questions decisions on when to field a punt, and while he didn’t fumble it definitely cost them yardage.
The Redskins have committed 13 penalties so far this season on special teams, and are on pace for 42 special teams penalties for the season. That is beyond ridiculous and would be 4 more than what they committed on special teams in 2012 and 2011 combined. This is just giving the other team free yardage on their returns, or even worse negating what few positive returns you have had. It’s gotten so bad that special teams coach Keith Burns ran into an official against the Cowboys and cost the Redskins an unsportsmanlike penalty for 15 yards.
The defense has only committed 9 penalties and they are on the field far more than the special teams unit. There is no reason why the special teams unit should be averaging 2.6 penalties a game and things have to start to change. This unit won’t have a chance to even be any sort of positive to this team the rest of the way, if the penalties continue.