I’m stepping in for Neil this week to dig into the unglamorous dirty work of special teams. Despite the league’s rule adjustments that appear to be moving closer and closer to eliminating kickoffs altogether, the ‘Third Phase’ remains an emphasis for teams looking to gain a crucial edge in field position, with back-end roster spots often dependent on a player’s contributions on special teams. Focusing on these often overlooked plays, you can find some really impressive performances by usually lesser known players, and here at PFF we want to shed some light on these plays and give those players some recognition.
As with the previous weeks, we’ll be ranking our Top 5 special teamers from Week 6, and giving you some detail about why they were selected, mentioning some plays to look out for, and also providing a “roll of honor”, listing the guys who each week picked up our top mark and a link back to the associated article.
1. Taiwan Jones +3.5 – Oakland (19 snaps)
Roles (including snaps): KO Coverage- L6 (2), Vice (8), Gunner (9)
We start with a Raider who had one of the five best special teams performances to this point in the season. Not making much of an impact through the first five weeks must have sparked something in Jones, as he came out and had a masterful day on punt returns against Kansas City. He managed to slow down gunner Ron Parker three times in the first half as solo vice (arguably the toughest task in football). And then when the roles were reversed, the results were not; Jones continued to get the best of the Chief on his way to collecting three tackles, including an impressive play at 0:10 of the third quarter when he stopped Dexter McCluster for a 1-yard gain.
2. Jamie Collins +2.5 – New England (27 snaps)
Roles: KO Coverage – L5 (7), Punt Coverage (4), KO Returns (6), Punt Returns (5), FG/EP Blocks (5)
Collins has played sparingly as a rookie in New England’s defense, but he’s made his presence felt on special teams. Against the Saints he played a team-high 27 snaps in a variety of roles, but did all of his positive work on kick coverage, bringing down Darren Sproles in the second quarter and squeezing the running lane on a fourth-quarter return. Rounding out his grade, he knocked the ball loose on Pierre Thomas’ attempted lateral on the game’s final play – and recovered it, for good measure – to ensure a Patriot victory.
3t. Chris Banjo +2.0 – Green Bay (14 snaps)
Roles: FG/EP Blocks (3), KO Coverage – R5/L5 (5), Punt Coverage (6)
The Packer made two impressive tackles in kick coverage against Baltimore. His first came on the opening play of the second half when, from the R5 position, he didn’t bother to disengage from his block, but rather bulled Anthony Levine backwards to take out the returner. Banjo’s second tackle came late in the fourth quarter on his lone snap on the other side at L5; he eluded a block attempt by the KFB to drop Jacoby Jones at the 10-yard line.
3t. Jeff Heath +2.0 – Dallas (18 snaps)
Roles: KO Coverage – L4/L5 (6), Punt Coverage (5), KO Returns (4), Punt Returns (3)
The rookie free agent for the Cowboys looks to be carving out a nice role on special teams (as UDFAs often do), following up a big Week 5 performance against Denver. In that game he made his mark on kickoffs, but this time around it was Heath’s work on punts that caught our eye – his de-cleating of Washington’s Reed Doughty helped spring Dwayne Harris for an 86-yard punt return touchdown at 2:45 of the second quarter. He also picked up two tackles in coverage.
3t. Jonathan Casillas +2.0 – Tampa Bay (22 snaps)
Roles: KO Coverage – L5 (5), Punt coverage (5), KO Returns (6), FG/EP Block (2), Punt Returns (4)
With Tampa’s mess of a season providing few positives to highlight so far, we look to the Third Phase for a bright spot this week. Casillas didn’t do much in his five snaps on defense, but made a pair of nice blocks on special teams, taking Brandon Graham out to spring a 40-yard punt return, and knocking an Eagle blocker to the turf on a kick later in the game. With an additional tackle in both kick and punt coverage, he finds his way onto this list to round out the Top 5 special teamers of Week 6.
PFF Special Teamer – 2013 Roll of Honor
|1||David Bruton||Denver||One blocked punt, a penalty drawn preventing him from blocking another and quality blocking for the returner when the Ravens actually managed to get the ball away.|
|2||Blake Constanzo||Chicago||Consistently excellent blocking on kick-off returns and a forced fumble when covering a kick-off.|
|3||Jeremy Lane||Seattle||Primarily for his work as a vice holding up gunners but also made a tackle on a KO, downed a punt and drew a flag while playing gunner himself.|
|4||Damontre Moore||N.Y. Giants||Three tackles on coverage units, an assist and a partially blocked punt together with some excellent blocking.|
|5||Justin Bethel||Arizona||A positive impression on eight of the 12 snaps he played – two tackles, beating a triple team, drawing a holding penalty, downing a punt, and great work as the single vice.|
|6||Taiwan Jones||Oakland||Outstanding work on punts. Slowed down the gunner on returns as solo vice to go along with three tackles in coverage.|