The Third Phase: Week 5

Neil Hornsby's regular look at the best from the league's often overlooked special teamers this week features a very special performance from an Arizona Cardinal.

| 4 years ago

Neil Hornsby's regular look at the best from the league's often overlooked special teamers this week features a very special performance from an Arizona Cardinal.

The Third Phase: Week 5

third-phase-wk05“The Third Phase” is our regular weekly homage to the guys who rarely get much recognition for what they do — the guys who only the team’s hardcore fans know exist. These are the special team players who cover and block on punt and kick-off returns, or play on extra points and field goals. Here’s a question for you: who plays L2 and R2 (the main contain men on kick-off coverage units as the L1 and R1 usually drop back as safeties) for your team? Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know because if you do, my guess is you are probably in a one percent minority.

Therefore one of the aims of the series is to shine something of a light into this dark realm of hitting, blocking, and tackling that goes on hidden in plain sight — to highlight some of the best at their position, some of their better plays, and maybe make what’s going on more intelligible and transparent.

It’s starting to take shape already, with the ultimate goal here that when the season ends we can accurately name not only our Top 5 special teams players, but also the best performers at every position on at least four of the six special teams units (the field goal and extra point units by their nature may prove too difficult).

So, as with the previous weeks, we’ll be ranking our Top 5 special teamers from Week 5, and giving you some detail about why they were selected, mentioning some plays to look out for, and also providing a “role of honor”, listing the guys who each week picked up our top gong together with a link back to the associated article.

1. Justin Bethel +4.0 – Arizona (17 snaps)

Roles (including snaps): KO Coverage – L2 (5), Gunner (4), Vice (3), KO Returns (3), FG/EP Blocks (2)

Last week, when on Twitter I named the Top 5 overall special teamers of the year, a few people asked me about the missing name of Justin Bethel. He was just bubbling away under that list due to a sub-optimal showing at New Orleans (he made some plays but was blocked on others and missed a tackle), but otherwise was performing exceedingly well.

Against the Panthers he took that to another level, and had a positive impression on a surreal eight of the 12 snaps he played (five KO touchbacks). That a level of impact was so ridiculous you had to check the number to make sure it was him yet again. Two tackles, beating a triple team to force a fair catch, drawing a holding penalty on a field goal, downing a punt, and more great work holding up gunners as the single vice.

Needless to say, he’s not only jumped into the Top 5 after this display, but captured the top position.

2. Lawrence Guy +3.0 – Indianapolis (16 snaps)

Roles: FG/EP Blocks (7), Kick Returns (7), Punt Returns (2)

OK, so he was the guy (pun intended) who blocked the field goal that was instrumental in helping the Colts beat the Seahawks. However, veterans of this article will realize that while that certainly helps, the bar for inclusion in this list is rather higher than a single key positive intervention.

Three significant blocks on seven kick returns as part of the two-man wedge will help with that though, and when you throw in a really good game on defense too (+2.6), this is a seventh-round selection (2011) who is making huge strides.

=3. Shawn Williams +2.0 – Cincinnati (22 snaps)

Roles: Punt Returns (7), Left Wing on Punt Coverage (6), R3/R4 on KO Coverage (4), KO Returns (3), FG/EP Blocks (2)

A combination of great work on both KO returns and punt coverage (including a tackle on Julian Edelman) is the reason for Williams’ inclusion. That and perhaps one of the most enthusiastic pieces of blocking I’ve seen all year. On the opening kickoff of the second half, watch him first push Dane Fletcher to the ground, give him a further shove as he’s getting up, and then pick up Kyle Arrington for good measure pushing him a good 15 yards out of the play.

=3. Kavell Conner +2.0 – Indianapolis (15 snaps)

Roles: KO Coverage-R3 (8), KO Returns (7)

Most of the time we give these grades it’s for performance on multiple units against different players. However, in this case Conner had one player in his sights when blocking for KO returns. Pick pretty much any kickoff the Colts actually returned (four) and watch him make a bee-line for the unlucky Malcolm Smith. I’m not sure what the Seahawk did to him in this existence, but on nearly every occasion the result was not pretty.

=3. Blake Costanzo +2.0 – Chicago (17 snaps)

Roles: KO Returns (7), KO Coverage – R4 (4), Right tackle on Punt Coverage (4), Punt Returns (2)

Our Special Teamer of Week 2,  and long-time third phase stand-out makes the list again by dint of quality blocking on kickoffs and a tackle from his R4 position on the return with 2:41 in the second quarter. Watch the way he first covers his assignment toward the left hash without committing to the degree he can’t still get across to run Darren Sproles out of bounds on the left sideline.

NB: These are just a few of the Special Team ratings we have. For every player graded please subscribe to our Premium Statistics


PFF Special Teamer – 2013 Roll of Honor


Winner Team Comment


David Bruton


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.


Blake Constanzo


Consistently excellent blocking on kick-off returns and a forced fumble when covering a kick-off.


Jeremy Lane


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.


Damontre Moore

N.Y. Giants

Three tackles on coverage units, an assist and a partially blocked punt together with some excellent blocking.


 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.


Follow Neil on Twitter: @PFF_Neil

| PFF Founder

Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

  • Dan

    I was quite disappointed when the Packers let Guy go because he didn’t make a mark due to injuries and competition at the position, but glad to see he is working his way up through STs.

  • Derrick

    Your 40 time really don’t count like real football speed. Justin Bethel is the first downfield almost always beating so called 4.3 speed players..great speed,power, and explosiveness.