Punters in Perspective: Coffin Punting
In the second part of an in-depth review of punting performances, Ben Stockwell breaks down the best and worst in coffin punting situations.
Punters in Perspective: Coffin Punting
Following up our article giving you a glimpse into the new data that Chris Kluwe outlined in a recent article for us we turn the attention of this data to coffin punting. In our last article we looked at this data in relation to the booming, field-position-flipping open-field punts, but this data is just as valuable — the punter is trying to pin the opposing offense to its own goal-line to allow his defense to pile on the pressure.
As Chris discussed in his article, the information available for a punter’s performance is very basic and the closest you get to being able to isolate a punter’s performance on these punts is the “Punts inside the 20” statistic, but even then a perfectly good coffin punt could fall out of this category through poor coverage play.
By isolating the impact line, width and hang-time of the punt, we can more accurately gauge a punter’s performance on coffin punts (punts from your own 41 and on towards the opponent’s goal-line). These are the factors within the punter’s control, this is his performance. Not a lucky bounce, a poor decision by a returner or a spectacular play by his coverage team, this is the punter’s input.
Keep it Out of the Endzone
This would seem the first and simplest task for a punter trying to pin the opposition well inside the 20-yard line. Kicking it straight to the endzone brings the ball right back out to the 20-yard line and renders your attempt to pin the opposition pointless, the only thing worse would be shanking your punt short of the 20. As a measure of re-assurance that your NFL punters are good at their jobs, for the most part the NFL’s punters achieved this task last season. Though nearly 20% of coffin punts resulted in a touchback (155/860) last season less than 30% of those touchbacks (45/155) came about as a result of the punter firing the ball directly into the endzone.
Only six punters put 10% or more of their coffin punts directly into the endzone last season and for two of them that consisted of only two punts from twenty attempts. Bringing up the field in this regard was Marquette King who blasted almost a quarter of his coffin punts directly into the endzone and saw 44% of his coffin punts go for touchbacks. Just as in the open field, King struggled to generate hang-time on his coffins punts and on the six punts he drove into the endzone, half of them went at least 5 yards deep, so these weren’t just a little bit too long.
Pinning Them Deep
Not wanting to get too close to the endzone but needing to take the opportunity to pin the opposition deep gives the punter a fine balance to strike. While some punters take full advantage and on average drive the ball inside the opponents 10-yard line, others don’t even average getting the ball inside the opponent’s 15-yard line which, even without a return, will not put the opponents in the shadow of their own goalposts. The league average impact line for coffin punts is just inside the 12-yard line with four getting inside the 10-yard line on average (Donnie Jones’ average impact line was 9.97).
Leading the way was Colts punter Pat McAfee, one of only two punters inside the Top 5 who didn’t drive one of his coffin punts straight to the endzone and only had four of his 24 coffin punts bounce in for a touchback. On McAfee’s coffin punts, 17 (more than 70%) impacted on or inside the 10-yard line, only two punters (Dustin Colquitt, 19; Donnie Jones, 18) had more punts with an impact inside the 10 but none as a higher percentage of their total coffin punts.
Hanging it High
Having been so dominant in the hang-time standings on open-field punts, you would perhaps expect to see Mike Scifres toward the top of the rankings on coffin punts too, but he is instead below the league’s average, getting more than half a second less hang-time on his 23 coffin punts than his 33 open field punts. Leading the way instead on coffin punt hang-time, and by an even bigger margin than Scifres led open field punts, was the Rams’ Johnny Hekker who averaged 4.92 seconds of hang-time in 2013. That was on a league low (for a full-time punter) of only 14 coffin punts, less than one per game. Hekker didn’t kick a single coffin punt directly to the endzone and also didn’t have a single coffin punt returned by the opposition.
Combining distance with hang-time it’s no surprise that Hekker comes out near the top as well with his lofty kicks, only beaten into second place by Saverio Rocca (7.8 yards per second). Rocca’s kicks had average hang-time (4.0 seconds) but were very short, not making it inside the opponents’ 15-yard line eight times and falling short of the 20-yard line twice. This resulted in only three of his punts being returned for only 2 yards, but perhaps cost Washington some opportunities to pin their opponents deeper and crank up the pressure.
Hitting the Corners
Rounding out our punters with a look at directional coffin punting we find that Rocca’s conservative distances were paired with good placement outside the numbers. Nearly 80% of his coffin punts were aimed outside the numbers with none left between the hash marks. That was a feat achieved by only two other punters with Hekker and Zoltan Mesko the only others not to leave a single coffin punt down the middle of the field. By contrast, Chris Jones, who fared so well with his hang-time, left a league-high 11 coffin punts between the hash marks, only driving six of his 30 outside the numbers.
Rocca is joined by Thomas Morstead as the only punters to appear in the Top 5 for directional punting in both the open field and for coffin punts with Morstead leaving only two punts all season between the hash marks. At the opposite end of the scale, three of the league’s younger punters and one of its veterans form up in the Bottom 5 for both categories. Andy Lee may have had three punts result in the ball going out of bounds last season but only one of those was as a result of him putting it there directly. That was at least one more than King, Jones and Jeff Locke managed between the three of them, with Locke only putting six of his 75 punts last season even so far as outside the numbers.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.